Near Red Lodge, Montana, in the Beartooth Mountains

Think about the greatest adventures you’ve had. Chances are, they started as a dream, slowly incubated in your mind, and finally morphed into reality after careful planning and execution. At some point, pipe dream becomes possibility—usually when you mentally commit yourself to a goal. After all, you never get anywhere in life by sitting on the sidelines.

The same is true for the amazing outdoor recreation in this country. The United States is blessed with abundant and diverse natural resources. Our network of federal, state, and local public lands is the envy of the world. Yet we can’t take this for granted. Our outdoor recreation infrastructure is the result of forward-thinking leaders, vocal stakeholders and enthusiastic citizens.

What if you had a chance to create a brighter future for outdoor recreation in your community? It’s election season, and all across the country, voters are deciding on ballot measures that will affect the places where we go to hike, bike, fish, camp, ATV, float, or just be outside. Perhaps you have an opportunity to cast a crucial vote in your hometown.

Take Bozeman, Montana, for instance. This city, whose tagline reads, “The most livable place,” has a $15 million parks and trails bond issue on the ballot this November. The measure would provide funding for parks, trails, athletic fields and natural areas; help protect water quality; bolster outdoor recreation opportunities; and enhance Bozeman’s high quality of life.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. But not everyone thinks the same way. So this was a perfect opportunity for Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to equip the Bozeman outdoor industry to speak out about the economic value of outdoor recreation. A couple of weeks ago, we sent a staffer up there to spread our gospel.

The sun sets in Glacier National Park

Bozeman is a hotbed of outdoor companies, with offices of Oboz, REI, Schnees, Simms Fishing, and Sitka, along with many consultants, designers, and guides. The livelihoods of these companies, and the people who work for them, depend on access to quality outdoor recreation. And these companies can attract great employees because of Bozeman’s quality of life.

Esteemed mountaineer Conrad Anker lives in Bozeman and is a champion for outdoor adventure. He joined us to help rally the troops. As someone who has built his career on being outdoors, Anker recognizes the importance of providing quality places for people to get outside and play. This doesn’t just mean the slopes of Mount Everest. We must create a full spectrum of outdoor opportunities—playgrounds where kids get comfortable running around in the dirt, trails to connect neighborhoods to schools, parks where families gather for picnics, rivers where anglers cast their lines, forests where mountain bikers cruise along singletrack, and pristine backcountry areas that see few footsteps.

Anker is a longtime advocate for outdoor interests. He served as a Conservation Alliance board member for 12 years, helping funnel outdoor industry dollars to grassroots environmental organizations. He’s traveled to Washington, D.C., many times to lobby for the protection of wild lands. He’s met with his county commissioners to explain the importance of outdoor recreation to the local economy. And he always uses the economics of outdoor recreation to open the conversation. Why? Because it’s a message that gets policymakers’ attention.

You can talk until you’re blue in the face about the intrinsic value of wild lands and the benefit of protecting them for future generations. But say this to a disbeliever, and it’s wasted breath on deaf ears.

Yet we have an opportunity to change the entire context of the conversation by framing it around jobs. Outdoor recreation is a larger and more critical sector of the U.S. economy than many people realize. When you mention that outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million jobs in this country and pumps $646 billion annually directly into the U.S. economy, suddenly a naysayer’s ears perk up. Trust me. In Montana alone, outdoor recreation contributes more than $2.5 billion annually to state economy, supporting 34,000 jobs and generating $118 million in annual state tax revenue.

As Anker told me on the phone last week, “If you’re not involved, you don’t have an opportunity to talk about outdoor recreation.” He’s right. We can sit back and hope for good things to happen. Or we can lend our voice to the chorus and speak out for what’s important to us. With our visit to Bozeman, OIA empowered industry folks to amplify their voice.

Is there a salient issue in your backyard where you have an opportunity to promote outdoor recreation? Speak up! Rally the support of your friends and neighbors.

Want to learn more? Check out The Outdoor Recreation Economy report that OIA released this year. It’s chock full of facts and figures to help you make a case for outdoor recreation in your backyard.

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich