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  • Writer's pictureSara Meaney

Advocacy and coalition building

Updated: May 7, 2021

In 2019, while Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Sara Meaney made a data-driven proposal to the Governor, and successfully convinced the site legislature to support the creation of a statewide Office of Outdoor Recreation. It was among the first in the Midwest and it set off a chain reaction of economic activity in the months and years that followed. The Outdoor Industry Association featured this strategic initiative in an article published in September 2019, excerpted in part, below.


The OREC movement is picking up steam, sweeping the middle of the country and bringing out states’ competitive streaks.

“Outdoor recreation is the number-one-reported reason people come to Wisconsin,” says the state’s Tourism Secretary, Sara Meaney. “We know that it isn’t just the residents that partake in it. Wisconsin actually has the third-largest number of nonresident fishing licenses in the country. People come from all over the place to fish in our rivers and streams and lakes.”

It’s also home to the American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski race in North America and has the third-largest number of downhill ski areas of any state, according to Meaney. It borders two Great Lakes, a huge boreal forest, native prairies, 10,000 miles of navigable waterways, more than 10,000 lakes and the Mississippi River.“

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, earlier this summer, Wisconsin became the 15th state to create an office of outdoor recreation, or OREC for short. And yet, it was a surprise — a pleasant one — to a lot of people who have been working hard to capitalize on the OREC movement that has so far swept the Rocky Mountain West and begun emerging on the East Coast.

We know that research tells us that recreation strengthens communities. We know that it connects people. We know that it drives healthy lifestyles. We know that it creates jobs. But we also know that it can help rural communities as much as, if not more than, urban communities. And Wisconsin, like so many states, has an interesting challenge ahead. We need to continue to build on the economy of rural communities that have more recently struggled because so many of them are agriculturally based. And farming, especially dairy farming, has been really challenging in recent years.” - Sara Meaney

To do this, Wisconsin’s OREC will strengthen local economies through four main focal points: promoting both local and out-of-state tourism through outdoor recreation attractions, putting money back in the pockets of small business owners and the communities where these activities take place, promoting active lifestyles for Wisconsin residents, and protecting public lands and waters to foster a sense of stewardship in all Wisconsinites.

“Outdoor recreation has always been a part of the story of Wisconsin. It hasn’t always been the primary story, nor does it have to become the only story,” says Meaney. “But the office of outdoor recreation can connect all of the stakeholders that drive the outdoor industry in our state to develop new initiatives, shared priorities, and potentially pool resources.”

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