REI's OptOutside Campaign Is a Good Idea - Now Congress Should Renew Another Good Idea

REI should be commended for closing its stores and urging people to get outdoors on the traditional post-Thanksgiving shopping day widely known as Black Friday. Coming at the beginning of a season too often filled with commercial hype, REI's plan may prompt all of us to consider the crucial importance of time spent in the outdoors with family and friends.

On a day when many retailers are opening earlier and pricing products lower to tempt shoppers inside, REI plans to close its 143 stores and give workers a paid day to get outside. The retailer is also urging the rest of us to #optoutside on the day after Thanksgiving.

As CEO of an organization that for more than 40 years has been creating parks and conserving land for recreation and public enjoyment, I applaud REI's actions. Of course, we all want to give our families and friends gifts for the holidays, but there are some gifts only nature can provide. And most of us understand that roaming a florescent-lit store aisle in search of a bargain is time that could be better spent playing with your kids outdoors, biking with family, or joining friends to hike a trail.

It's good when a business calls attention to the importance of the outdoors in our lives. But businesses can only do so much. In a time when our kids are spending too much time glued to their screens, and when doctors are writing "parkscriptions" for people of all ages to get outside and exercise, everyone should have an opportunity--and a place--to get outdoors. Organizations like The Trust for Public Land have a vital role to play in this effort. But so does government--and especially the federal government, a crucial source of money for arks and open space.

Of the more than 800,000 people who have clicked to join REI's "#OptOutside" campaign, it's a good bet that many of them are planning to spend Black Friday in an outdoor place protected with help from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For 50 years, this most important of federal programs for parks and conservation has channeled money from offshore oil leases into parks and open space in all 50 states--including trails, historic sites, wildlife refuges, hunting and fishing areas, city parks, playgrounds, ballfields, and some of our most popular national parks.

In September, in a breach of faith with the American people, Congress let the program lapse. It's hard to imagine that any single action could be as important in keeping Americans connected to the outdoors as the reauthorization of this wildly successful program--which uses not one dollar of tax money.

REI has made an important contribution to our ongoing discussion about the importance of getting outdoors. Now Congress should show that it understands the contributions of parks and conserved lands to the nation's health and wellbeing. On Black Friday--or any day--LWCF is a great bargain, and reauthorizing it would be a welcome gift to all Americans.