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:

  • A Resource Management Plan Guidebook on how to prepare Resource Management Plans
  • A Design Guidelines Handbook of design specifications for recreation facilitates
  • A Water Recreation Opportunity Spectrum Handbook describing a method to categorize water surface areas into zones of desirable recreation settings and use capacities
  • A Sign Manual to standardize signage; and
  • A Concessions Policy and Procedures Guidelines to help attract and sustain high quality recreation facilities and services

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:

  • The health benefits of outdoor recreation were brought to light with the launching of the President's Healthier US program. Former Commissioner John Keys was in St. Paul in 2004 when the Administration kicked off the Get Fit With Us campaign. Recreating on public lands is not only fun, it's HEALTHY.
  • Reclamation is a charter partner in co-sponsoring the Take Pride in America, National River Cleanup Week, National Public Lands Day and National Fishing and Boating Week campaigns. We have been pleased to participate in several events organized during Great Outdoors Month, and will continue to do so.

    For example, our Yuma Area office participated with thousands of Boy Scouts and other organizations in a Take Pride in America event to clean up the Lower Colorado River. This effort was recognized by being awarded a Secretarial Take Pride in America citation this past year.

  • In cooperation with Derrick and the American Recreation Coalition a journal for Wonderful Outdoor World on the Water was recently published. This will supplement the in-city park camping experiences of the basic WOW program. It will teach the young folks about the importance of water conservation and how to have fun on the water.
  • In cooperation with the State of California, Reclamation hosts the American River Water Education Center, located at Folsom Dam. The center offers an exciting way to experience the watershed of the American River and to appreciate the importance of water in the west. California School groups participate in interactive episodes to help students learn water conservation issues in nature, urban or agricultural settings. Teacher lesson plans for elementary, junior high and high school integrate web site content with classroom activities. Special events include the Get W.E.T. (Water Education Today) program. Coming this year is a new exhibit about groundwater, and an exhibit on water use and metering water in your home. Students are also encouraged to hike, jog, bike, roller blade or horseback ride on the adjacent American River Parkway.
  • Reclamation signed an MOU with other Federal agencies and Wilderness Inquiry to provide opportunities for disabled youth to participate in outdoor activities on Federal lands.
  • And of course we are primary sponsors of the Catch a Special Thrill (CAST) for Kids Foundation. This program educates and encourages kids with disabilities and their families (including siblings) to engage in the outdoor activities of fishing and boating. While the program targets children with disabilities, siblings and parents are encouraged to attend and we have on-shore activities for kids that can't go out on the boats due to limited space. The on-shore activities include physical undertakings like hula-hooping, nerf ball throwing and "horseshoes", fishing games, and crawdad catching. The entire family gets a day outside away from the television, computer, and video games, and the kids are exposed the beautiful outdoors around and on our reservoirs.
  • Also here in California Reclamation sponsors several youth events at Lake Berryessa and New Melones. We have partnered with several local schools and provide educational opportunities including educational hikes, natural resource education, and conservation education as a part of the regular school curriculum for 4th, 5th and 6th graders. We sponsor "Take A Kid Fishing" Day. Reclamation provides children with fishing poles and bait. We usually have several volunteers come out and set up booths that focus on water conservation, water safety, and natural resources. "Kids Fishing Fun Day" at New Melones is another event that has been ongoing for the past fourteen years and is open to all children who sign up for the fishing event. This event is held in conjunction with CAST and occurs on the state's free fishing day in June.
  • Reclamation is also a founding partner in the Otto Otter water safety program. Created in the Pacific Northwest the Otto Otter mascot is used to educate the public, especially children, about the dangers of drowning in canals and ditches. The Otto Otter safety message is primarily delivered to children in elementary grades throughout the region. This delivery includes classroom visits, participation in parades and local events, distribution of "Otto Otter" coloring books and other means.

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.