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Will Outdoor Recreation Save Appalachia?

In rural America, where small towns are struggling with the decline of traditional industries like factories and sawmills, outdoor recreation is being touted as the new hope for economic revitalization. The Biden Administration has recently relaunched an outdoor recreation council and promised to expand the industry in order to help rural communities thrive. However, reviving a struggling town is not a simple task. In rural Appalachia, structural forces have left much of the region behind as economic and political power shifts to other areas. But despite these challenges, there is still hope for these communities. Locals have two options: they can continue to rely on the promises of one industry to save them, or they can take a more grassroots approach by building up local leadership and supporting a variety of existing businesses. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are promising examples of small experiments that have brought success to some rural areas. The key to this success is not federal officials or state politicians, but rather the locals who use their unique assets to build a better future for their communities. While outdoor recreation may not be the only answer for every region, it has proven to be a viable option for many rural places. Activities like hiking, skiing, wildlife-watching, hunting, and exploring the local landscape can not only boost the local economy, but also offer potential for manufacturing and high-value services. States like Pennsylvania are already investing heavily in outdoor recreation, with the head of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources calling it a “lottery ticket” that could surpass even the gas industry in economic impact. This focus on outdoor recreation has also led to policies that prioritize protecting public lands for recreational use over development for natural gas. In fact, the state has recently allocated millions of dollars for outdoor recreation projects and established an Office of Outdoor Recreation to further support the industry. This investment is expected to bring in billions of dollars for the state and create opportunities for rural areas to attract and retain highly competitive workers. The Pennsylvania Wilds, a 13-county region in the north-central part of the state, is a prime example of the potential for outdoor recreation to drive economic growth in rural areas. With the right support and resources, it is possible for these communities to thrive once again. 

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