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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Wilderness outings serving disadvantaged kids get boost from Jewell

Phuong Le Associated Press

SEATTLE – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday issued an order aimed at improving outdoor access for organizations that take disadvantaged youth on backpacking, climbing and other trips on public lands.

Her order directs the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to reduce barriers for such groups, streamline the permitting process and consider ways to ensure that they aren’t required to get a commercial permit or other authorization.

Some groups say they face hurdles getting permits to access federal public lands and that the process can be too cumbersome, varied and not transparent enough. They may have to pay big fees or are required to get commercial-use permits.

“We’re very excited by this announcement and to work with federal land partners to find out what it means and how we can access more days in the places we want to be operating in,” said Bryan Martin, executive director of Big City Mountaineers, a Denver-based nonprofit that runs wilderness expeditions for disadvantaged teens across the country, including the Pacific Northwest.

“Obtaining permits on federal lands to run these wilderness experiences have been difficult,” Martin said. It’s a cumbersome process particularly for small nonprofits with limited resources, he added.

Martin said in some cases his group runs wilderness trips that are much farther away because they’re unable to get permits for more popular destinations closer to their home base.

“We’re pretty happy about it. It’s a step in the right direction,” said Adam Cramer, executive director of the Outdoor Alliance, a national coalition of recreational advocacy organizations.

“It’s a targeted solution for programs that fit a certain description,” but the process could lead to benefits for others as well, said Paul Sanford, who directs national recreation policy at The Wilderness Society. “We’re happy about it. We think there’s more work to do.”

Washington U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell also applauded the decision. The Democrat became aware of the issue when the Seattle YMCA was required to get an outfitter-guide permit because the U.S. Forest Service considered the organization a commercial entity, her office said in a statement.

The order applies to individuals and groups that seek access to lands for low-income participants who are homeless, in foster care or other underserved populations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes the Forest Service, is also working to streamline its process.

Jewell said the action honors the tireless advocacy and legacy of Seattle conservationist and philanthropist Douglas Walker, who died in an apparent avalanche earlier this year.