Outdoor recreation: a growing Md. industry that deserves federal support
By Hamilton Chaney
Oct 14, 2019 | 6:00 AM
Folks come from far and wide to enjoy the beauty of Maryland's public parks and waterways. But these places don't just provide surface level beauty; they help power the Old Line State economy. In fact, the Bureau of Economic Analysis last month released its first-ever report on outdoor recreation's economic impact in each state, finding that our industry accounts for nearly 2% of Maryland's total GDP. Just in Anne Arundel County, where my company, Herrington Harbour, is located, recreational boating activities provide a $365 million economic impact, supporting more than 3,400 jobs.
These crucial economic contributions rely on safe, navigable waterways. Unfortunately, misguided policymaking over the past few years has jeopardized the use of a critical access point: the Rockhold Creek Channel. The 2014 silting of the federal channel created unsafe conditions and restricted passage for recreational boaters. Our local community requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge a waterway entrance, providing connectivity to the two county channels. USACE noted a lack of funding to cover the requested dredging project, resulting in community-wide efforts that raised nearly $350,000 dollars to fund the project.
While fortunate the first time, our community may not be as lucky the next time around. A second silting of the Rockhold Creek Channel would likely bankrupt our community, close businesses and harm the workers and families that rely on these jobs. Nearly 100 small businesses in Anne Arundel County that depend on Rockhold Creek Channel remaining navigable could be shuttered as a result.
Despite the federal government's reluctance to conduct the dredging project the first time, such projects do fall under their purview. However, antiquated project prioritization processes prevent the government from carrying out critical infrastructure projects that are vital to the outdoor recreation industry, like dredging. Current processes don't account for the economic impact of recreation activities, including fishing and boating. What's more, USACE has even issued a permit for the Rockhold Creek Channel project, but it cannot proceed until prioritization processes are modernized to reflect the direct economic impact of recreational access.
By neglecting maintenance of these assets, the federal government restricts access to recreational activities, like boating, leaving our economy at a disadvantage. Small recreation-based harbors and waterways are critical access points for marinas and coastal communities where businesses depend on marine recreation-based economic activity. In a time when we're facing a multi-billion-dollar deferred maintenance backlog on public lands and waters, the federal government must be more efficient with the use of taxpayer dollars on infrastructure.
It’s incumbent upon the federal government to recognize recreation as a fast-growing sector and mirror the industry’s economic contributions with investments in the blue and green infrastructure that serves as the backbone of the outdoor recreation industry. We’ve already made progress on this in Maryland thanks to Gov. Larry Hogan’s leadership in establishing the Maryland Outdoor Recreation Economic Commission — and I remain hopeful that our state will transform the commission into a full-time, permanent office in the days ahead.
The time to act on this issue is now. Currently, the Water Resource Development Act, a potential vehicle for solving the problem, is under consideration in Congress. Policymakers in the Chesapeake Bay region are uniquely positioned to address this issue given that Maryland's two U.S. Senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, sit on committees with jurisdiction over water resources issues. Fortunately, we know Senator Van Hollen is already aware of this issue, having raised his concerns with the current process during a recent hearing.
To help ensure the maintenance needs of our state's recreation-based channels like Rockhold Creek are no longer neglected, I encourage all Marylanders to contact Senators Cardin and Van Hollen and tell them you support fixing the dredging prioritization process as part of the Water Resource Development Act.
Through this measure, Congress has the opportunity to modernize an antiquated process while saving thousands of businesses and jobs supported by the outdoor recreation industry.