Straight Talk: Nathan Fey

Colorado’s top outdoor recreation official details how the outdoor industry in this state can survive the pandemic and help with the recovery.

photo courtesy Nathan Fey

The outdoor recreation industry in Colorado is a $62.5 billion community that employs 511,00 people in the state—but it has been hit hard by COVID-19. As the director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, Nathan Fey is front-and-center in making sure this industry that is such an integral part of the  economy recovers strong and helps get everyone back on their feet. Here’s what he had to say about the state’s plan.

How can Colorado’s outdoor industry help us recover from the pandemic?

The outdoor recreation industry can and is helping Colorado to recover from the pandemic in many ways, foremost by being a major contributor in the state’s recovery efforts through the production of PPE. It is also important for the industry to model responsible recreation by ensuring its employees are complying with the Safer at Home directives. Finally, the industry is working to inform policy decisions at the federal, state, and local level. This includes advocating for funding critical outdoor recreation support in future economic stimulus efforts, including recreation infrastructure such as roads and trails. That means contemplating how any changes in federal revenues, such as the US Forest Service and the Department of Interior, are not further complicated by declines in local government or agency budgets. We are also closely watching S.3422, the Great American Outdoors Act, which would be a significant investment in the outdoor recreation economy throughout the nation. At the local level, we are working with our partners to fund programs and community relief efforts in areas of the state that depend more heavily on an outdoor economy. 

How can people start getting outdoors responsibly as restrictions begin to lift this spring and summer?

The challenge is balancing the desire to get outdoors with the necessity of not overwhelming our mountain communities and their limited medical resources. For the short term, it’s important that people continue to recreate within 10 miles of home. In all environments—near or far—social distancing protocols are critical as we return to trailheads and open spaces. When our public health team determines that expanded activities are suitable for our public spaces, Colorado will work with outdoor recreation offices in surrounding states to ensure we are all consistent in our approach so as not to unintentionally mobilize a disproportionate volume of outdoor enthusiasts in any one state. 

What is the state doing to help Colorado outdoor businesses that have been devastated by the pandemic?

Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) continues to engage and educate outdoor recreation businesses so they can access critical federal assistance programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. 

We’ve also led the way in understanding industry needs and hearing their voices. In April, we completed an economic impact assessment of Colorado’s outdoor recreation businesses and we are using these responses to identify short- and long-term economic recovery strategies as well as reveal gaps where state or private dollars can serve pressing industry needs. 

We also support the deployment of a modern Civilian Conservation Corps, which would offer a combination of jobs for Americans and restoration and stewardship of our public lands while providing crucial mental and physical health opportunities nationwide. 

How can Elevation Outdoors readers support these businesses?

We want to see EO readers supporting the brands that have stepped up to meet Colorado’s immediate needs for PPE, and to shop local. Buy your equipment from local retailers so that when the time comes, you can return safely to the outdoors. Whether it’s bear spray, sun protection, or the latest award-winning products unveiled at Outdoor Retailer last January, show your support for those local companies that have put Colorado’s public safety ahead of their very own needs. 

What economic resources are out there for businesses and individuals in the Colorado outdoor community to get help?

COVID-19’s impact is as widespread as the scope of businesses and individuals in need. The federal assistance programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans are the first line of defense for Colorado’s small businesses, nonprofits and independent contractors. State, local and private sector support is designed to fill the gaps. We have a running list of other economic resources available on the OEDIT website at that are updated daily. 

How have you been able to responsibly spend time outdoors?

Getting outside is important for all of us and Governor Polis frequently cites the benefits of his family’s daily walks. As for me, I am a sixth generation Coloradan and father of the seventh generation, so being outdoors is who I am. My family and I take daily walks, bike rides, or stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) sessions on the lake. We have also been cleaning and putting away our winter gear, enjoying watching the spring river levels and prepping our raft for when the time is right to return, sorting fly boxes, and pouring over maps to plan our next adventure. 

What gives you hope looking to the future now?

I see hope in my neighborhood when people are picking up trash while on their evening walks. The hope is that we have all realized the importance that our parks and open spaces have to our daily lives, and with that comes a renewed sense of responsibility and a shared commitment to take care of them. As we re-open public lands, my hope is that ethic remains strong and that view is universal. 

I see hope in people making renewed efforts to wave at neighbors or howl at 8 p.m. for caregivers and those on the front lines battling this pandemic. Our communities have come together through this and that bodes well for our future. 

Finally, I see hope in that the OREC industry remains innovative through all of this. Just last night, across the globe, people tuned in to the first of three unlocked screenings of the 5Point Film Festival. The organizers were able to bring our community together, not in Carbondale for the festival, but safely at home. We were inspired and challenged, and reminded just how human we all are. I know I need that and I’m sure we all do. 

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