Getting More People Outside with the SOAR Act

Of all the barriers to getting outside, paperwork should be the least of your problems. There’s enough of mental hurdles, physical demands, and socio-economic struggles that most people experience when planning an adventure, regardless of whether you’re a hardened outdoor advocate or a total newbie.

That was the idea behind the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act); making it easier, to get people outside. The bill, introduced to the senate by U.S. senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), is a call for simplifying processes to get groups outside, and would make it easier for lead groups on our public lands.

Today, the process for guiding companies, nonprofit organizations, university outdoor programs, and volunteer groups to acquire permits is lengthy and complicated. And when their time is sucked up in administrative work, they have less energy to devote to their core mission: introducing new people to the outdoors via guided hikes, or technical courses like climbing or rafting. These groups are the gateway to getting more people to enjoy our public lands, which means that when they have better access to taking folks outside, you can find easier, safer ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Outdoor Research is celebrating our third year of the We Can Grant; a $10,000 grant dedicated to improving outdoor access at the individual level. We were so eager to support the SOAR Act because of the similar work at the legislative level – something we simply couldn’t do on our own. It’s ideas like these that show how important it is for outdoor leaders to work together, and lean in on one another, to open up new doors of opportunities for everyone.

The SOAR Act also directly impacts many of Outdoor Research’s partner organizations, like the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), who are currently subjected to a rigorous permit acquisition process. Non-profit groups like SheJumps and Women’s Wilderness also rely on securing permits season after season to support their work with underprivileged groups and introduce the outdoors to people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. The bottom line is that simplifying the permitting process is better for businesses, better for the outdoors, and better for the people who get to enjoy these experiences.

There’s a lot to digest, but here are some of the biggest highlights of the SOAR Act:

1.    Increase recreational access: Simplify the permitting process for guides, nonprofits, schools, and volunteer organizations.

2.    Make more opportunities available: Offer more short-term permits, and create a permit swap program for unused permits.

3.    Reduce costs for small businesses and organizations: Decrease fees for permits and processing.

4.    Provide new protections for permit holders: Recognizing seasonal demand, and waive permits for extraordinary circumstances like wildfire.

5.    Reduce barriers to access: Making it easier for school groups to get outside makes it easier for students to get outside.

The SOAR Act is supported by dozens of organizations dedicated to improving outdoor access like us, and is largely spearheaded by REI, the Mountaineers, our partners at AMGA, among others. Even with all those big names – we still need your help. Click here to learn how you can support the SOAR Act by engaging with your senators and sharing with other people who care about outdoor access.