Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Announces New Rural Economic Development Grant

Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) announced the opening of its grant opportunity to help rural communities grow their local economies and make them more resilient through outdoor recreation. These grants are made possible through funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and help ensure that ORR can continue its charge to provide support, information, and resources to rural communities seeking to create economic opportunities through outdoor recreation.

This marks the second round of ORR’s successful grant program which debuted in 2021. This new round increases grant size to $10,000 and provides in-kind technical assistance from ORR members to rural communities with compelling recreation economy plans. For communities with big plans and limited bandwidth, grants like these can help unlock federal, state, and local match dollars from programs like USDA Rural Development, state infrastructure funds, and interest from private foundations.

ORR’s grant program will specifically award 4 of the 25 communities that are part of the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) Program, a partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Border Regional Commission, and Appalachian Regional Commission. RERC provides technical assistance to communities who are looking to build or grow sustainable recreation economies and RERC staff have recently completed workshops in all awarded communities. In two cohorts of the program, nearly 300 applications were received, indicating the widespread demand for outdoor recreation economy development across the United States.

“Rural communities all across the country are recognizing the strength and resiliency that investment in outdoor recreation can bring to local economies,” said Jessica Wahl Turner, President of ORR. “Thanks to the ongoing support of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, more places and people than ever will have the opportunity to experience the benefits of time spent outside. ORR is grateful for their support and looks forward to seeing the amazing projects that this year’s cohort will launch.”

“EPA is so pleased that ORR and the Richard King Mellon Foundation are supporting our RERC community partners as they seek to boost outdoor recreation and main street revitalization,” said Adriana Hochberg, Principal Deputy Associate Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Policy. “This partnership will provide necessary funding to help build sustainable, diverse outdoor recreation economies while protecting natural resources in these rural communities and small towns that deserve our support and investment.”

“The outdoor recreation industry is an important economic driver for our region’s rural communities, and the diverse natural landscapes of our 13 Appalachian states can provide a stunning refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily life while providing countless opportunities for adventure or to find peace in nature,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “ARC is proud that the RERC program is aiding ORR in their goal of helping rural communities capitalize on the nationwide interest in Appalachia’s outdoor recreation opportunities, and we look forward to seeing how the work of these grantees will bolster the workforce ecosystem throughout the region.”

“The U.S. Forest Service is committed to helping rural communities realize the economic and health benefits of forests. We are proud to partner with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Northern Border Regional Commission, and Appalachian Regional Commission to provide technical assistance to help communities grow their outdoor recreation economy and revitalize their main streets,” said Alice Ewen, Assistant Director of Cooperative Forestry, Landowner Assistance at the U.S. Forest Service. “ORR’s support is a big boost that helps communities take early action on their plans to attract investment and strengthen local economies.”

“Economic development in rural places is so frequently ignited by just a few sparks. For communities in the Northern Border region that have participated in the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program, this process has proven to be the action that catalyzes broader community and economic development,” said Chris Saunders, Federal Co-Chair of the Northern Border Regional Commission.  “The type of follow on support being provided by ORR and the Richard King Mellon Foundation is also a crucial component to moving these community generated ideas forward.”