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Meet Pennsylvania’s First Director of Outdoor Recreation

Tags: Recreation
January 26, 2022 12:00 AM

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As we begin a new year, DCNR is excited to welcome Pennsylvania’s first Director of Outdoor Recreation -- Nathan Reigner.

The commonwealth is joining a number of states putting a focus on the connections between having fun outdoors, the health of people and communities, and the outdoor industry.

“We are thrilled to see Pennsylvania announce Nathan Reigner as the state’s first Outdoor Recreation Director,” said Outdoor Industry Association Executive Director Lise Aangeenbrug. “As outdoor participation continues to expand, the value of a strong outdoor recreation ecosystem is undeniable -- it spurs economic growth, brings new mental and physical health benefits, and creates new jobs and career paths. There is great opportunity in Pennsylvania to join state outdoor recreation directors across the country in galvanizing the outdoor economy and amplifying the importance of outdoor recreation. We look forward to working closely with the director as he establishes his role and continues the expansion and strengthening of a thriving outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania.”

Reigner’s position will help ensure equitable access, investments, conservation, collaboration, and business development related to outdoor recreation.

“I am proud to welcome Nathan to DCNR and eagerly look forward to the impact his work will have in expanding outdoor recreation access in Pennsylvania,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “Public lands are at the heart of outdoor recreation, making it critical that DCNR continues to focus on strategic growth and coordination to ensure the outdoors are welcoming and accessible to all.”

Pennsylvania has the sixth largest outdoor recreation economy in the nation, accounting for billions of dollars in economic impact each year.

A native of Pennsylvania, Reigner graduated from Upper Perkiomen High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from Gettysburg College, a Master of Science in Forestry from Virginia Tech, and a Doctorate in Natural Resource Management from the University of Vermont.

He offers some insights about his background and this new position:

What is your background for this position?

Person, outdoors, winter, snow, trail, mailbox, hiking

My introduction to outdoor recreation began playing in the woods around my rural home in Montgomery County, and as a member of Boy Scout Troop 108, whose activities were focused on community service, outdoor skills, and high adventure. We went camping once a month, in all weather, and cooked over open fires.

After graduating from Gettysburg College and living in D.C. for my first professional job, I set the course for my life’s work when I became a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and began doing volunteer trail work.

Those experiences opened my eyes to the way natural places are impacted by policy and regulations, budgeting, stewardship, and so much more. I wanted my work to help people have meaningful experiences outdoors.

After receiving my Ph.D., I was fortunate to work in dozens of national parks across the country and Iceland -- helping them understand their outdoor recreation and its impacts; ran my own small business consulting on recreation management; and most recently was a professor in Penn State’s Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management Department.

The excellence of Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation is the product of our remarkable landscapes and strong partnerships. I look forward to putting all my experiences into helping bring the resources of DCNR and the commonwealth to these places and people to further grow our outdoor recreation sector and sustain our natural resources.

What is the purpose of this new position?

This new position will have many goals, but simply said, my mission is to help Pennsylvania fully realize the benefits of outdoor recreation.

It’s less about specific activities -- hiking, canoeing, biking -- than about people being motivated and connected to have certain experiences outdoors and the commonwealth and its residents getting the many benefits from that.

I’ll be working to expand how state government connects to the system of participants in outdoor activities; places to be outdoors; related laws and policies; and the partners including businesses, organizations, and communities.

What work is planned for the first year?

For the first year to 18 months, my work will include getting to know the many facets and partners in outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania and how we can all support each other. I’ll be gathering input for a strategic vision that is aligned with the goals of Pennsylvania’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

How will this office support conservation?

Person, outdoors, trees, forest, hat, coat, gun, shotgun

Our conserved natural and cultural heritage is the canvas on which outdoor recreation is painted. Outdoor recreation resources have direct conservation and economic benefits, and conservation activities like volunteer stewardship and community science can be outdoor recreation too.

A great example that I learned about during my first month on the job is how the York Heritage Rail Trail in York County is being used as the infrastructure corridor to bring high-speed internet to rural communities -- benefits for people, recreation, and the economy.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the outdoor recreation industry so far, and how do you think it will in the future?

When the human world was filled with danger, the natural world was safe and soothing, so that’s where people went -- the outdoors was there for us. That was a great reminder of the importance and need to conserve natural places and we should remember it.

But even before the pandemic, participation in outdoor activities and interest in public lands were rising dramatically. I expect that after we are through the pandemic, participation in outdoor recreation will continue to grow. Recreation activities are diversifying, interests are fueled by technology, and workers who can live anywhere they want are choosing places with abundant outdoor opportunities.

What’s your go-to spot to spend time outdoors in Pennsylvania?

Person, outdoors, trail, forest, woods, nature

I just moved, but most recently lived in the State College area where I had an experience that demonstrates the connections between community, outdoor recreation, and the economy.

Equipped with a new bike purchased locally at Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College, I made my way to Elk Creekside in Millheim early in the morning. Elk Creekside is an outdoor space graciously shared by the volunteer Millheim Fire Co. Tents and picnic tables are available or bring your own lawn chairs and blankets to spread out on the grassy hillside that offers a simple menu, beer served in glassware, and local musicians.

From there, I rode my bike into Bald Eagle State Forest, into and through the tunnel at Poe Paddy State Park, and after hours of riding, found my way back to the Creekside where many people from far and wide were gathered for food and music.

On different excursions, I heard someone playing the cello in the Poe Paddy tunnel and watched a buggy of young Amish people parked at the Creekside listening to reggae music.

These are the connections and the type of beneficial experience I’ll be looking to lift in my new role as Director of Outdoor Recreation at DCNR.

Learn what others are saying (PDF) about Pennsylvania’s new Outdoor Recreation Director.

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