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Recreation at Reclamation Projects

Remarks Delivered By:
Robert W Johnson, Commissioner
Partners Outdoors 2007
Lake Arrowhead, California
January 07, 2007

Thanks for inviting me to participate with all of you at this timely conference and in such a great setting. In my former job as the Regional Director of the Lower Colorado Region of Reclamation this part of California was in my region but I never had the opportunity to visit here.

In response to Charles and Derrick's remarks I'd like to give you Reclamation's perspective on providing recreation opportunities at our projects and some of the activities involving youth.

Recreation at Reclamation Projects
The primary reason that Reclamation was created by Congress in 1902 was to "reclaim" the arid west and provide opportunities for pioneers to make a living. Over the last 100 years that remains our core mission - to deliver available water and generate hydroelectric power. It's within that core mission that Reclamation projects provide additional benefits, like recreation.

As the saying goes "We have built them and they have come." Water based recreation is the most popular type of recreation in the world.

Reclamation projects in the 17 Western states attract over 90 million visits a year. Those users generate more than $6 billion to the local economies and provide some 27,000 non-federal jobs.

The vast majority of that recreation use is managed by other entities. Over 250 of the 300 plus recreation areas on Reclamation projects are managed by other Federal, State or County governments. Reclamation either built or cost-shared in the initial construction of the facilities. After that the managing entity pretty much took over operation, maintenance and replacement. These partnerships benefit the public because they are managed by the local governments who understand and respond better to the needs of the users. Managing partners also provide other important services such as pest control, trespass resolution, site security, and public safety. Many of these areas are some of the best parks within State systems like Ridgway in Colorado, and Jordanelle in Utah. Some of the more developed facilities like marinas were built by private sector investors through a concessions program. There are about 225 concessions operating on Reclamation lands and waters.

One of our biggest challenges is attracting and retaining recreation managing partners. Because recreation is not our core mission we are not funded to provide other than minimal recreation facilities. That's why we rely on our managing partners who, after initial construction, provide the majority of required funds to operate and maintain the facilities. As our State and County partners face the same budget restrictions as the Federal government, the risk of recreation management responsibility being turned back to Reclamation becomes a greater consequence. When that happens everyone suffers - Reclamation does not have the budget, personnel or in some cases the authority to manage the facilities. If the areas have to be closed, the public will loose popular recreation opportunities, there will be deterioration of Federal investments, and very likely the areas will be used in trespass causing environmental degradation and unhealthy and unsafe conditions.

Actions and Accomplishments
On a brighter note and in spite of those challenges Reclamation is focusing on a lot of positive actions to enhance the outdoor recreation experiences at our lakes. We are working closely with other Federal and State agencies and interest groups to provide the best possible tools to build and maintain recreation opportunities.

We conducted a survey of our 67 managing partners to identify some of the issues facing recreation management on Reclamation projects. We discussed the results with the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) at their annual meeting last September. There are over 200 State Parks on Reclamation land. They have committed to working with Reclamation to resolve the concerns and issues. We look forward to this effort.

Reclamation has recently developed several documents to help guide recreation development. They include:

Programs and Activities Involving Youth
Reclamation strongly endorses the theme of this conference and has supported several programs and activities that promote outdoor education and physical activity. Let me just mention a few:

Regardless of nationality, I hope the values of America's natural resources and the unique opportunities to enjoy those resources on our nation's public lands and waters are firmly instilled in the education processes in this country. Experiencing outdoor recreation activities with family and friends is a privilege that must be appreciated to be sustained.

And we can't overlook the importance of outdoor recreation experiences with family and friends creating a special and lasting bond and appreciation for the outdoors.

Closing Remarks
Reclamation's challenge is how to accommodate increased recreation use at our projects without compromising our core mission of water and power delivery and without additional appropriations which are not forthcoming. We must rely on and collaborate with our partners. We have management agreements with all 17 Reclamation State Parks Departments. Although primarily directed by law, we think this partnership is a win/win formula. The Federal government can provide the popular and desired water based setting and the States can provide the local management where they are better able to deal with regional and local community needs and services. Add to this management formula, opportunities for private sector investments by companies whose business it is to know what the public wants and able to provide quality facilities and services without taxpayer funding and you have the win/win solution.

Maybe another way to focus attention and action on youth and the outdoors is through the Federal Land Management Agency Head Roundtable. This 7 agency head group agreed to periodically meet and discuss issues which are crosscutting among our bureaus and agencies. I think a strategy to enhance youth and the outdoors programs is a timely topic for the Roundtable. I would suggest to my colleagues that we put this on the agenda of the next Roundtable meeting this spring.

Well again I appreciate the opportunity to address this public/private sector conference. It's you folks and the organizations and bureaus you represent that provide the places, facilities and services for the public, especially young folks, to enjoy the outdoors. This unique annual forum provides a great opportunity to learn from each other and come away with a reinvigorated approach to providing enjoyable experiences for the millions of visitors to our nation's public lands and waters. I hope the rest of your conference goes well. I will be very interested in hearing about the results.