A Red Wing powersport dealer was in Washington D.C. touting the economic benefits of outdoor recreation and calling on lawmakers to clear a backlog of infrastructure projects.

John Wooden is owner of River Valley Power and Sport, as well as a representative of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. He was part of a four-person panel that spoke Oct. 30 before the House Small Business Committee.

“Boating and fishing are top contributors to outdoor recreation’s economic prowess, which comes as no surprise considering 141 million Americans take to the water each year,” Wooden told committee members.

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He highlighted data in a recent Bureau of Economic Analysis report that found the outdoor recreation industry accounted for 2.2% — or $427.2 billion — of the country’s gross domestic product in 2017.

In Minnesota, the boating industry generates $3.1 billion annually in economic activity and supports thousands of jobs, Wooden said, adding that outdoor recreation is “an economic necessity” in the state and many other states around the country.

He continued that outdoor recreation businesses are succeeding despite a maintenance backlog on federal lands and water systems. Wooden spoke in support of measures lawmakers could take, such as:

  • Reauthorize the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST. The fund supports federal and state conservation, safety and infrastructure programs.

  • Expand broadband internet access on federal waters to benefit boaters using technology for navigation and weather updates.

  • Ensure recreation is handled fairly when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prioritizes water infrastructure bills.

The U.S. Department of the Interior was behind $16.4 billion on deferred maintenance projects, according to a June 2019 statement to lawmakers. The department manages infrastructure such as trails and water systems, including the National Park Service.

The Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has a deferred maintenance backlog of $5.2 billion, according to testimony this summer before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“There’s lots of opportunity here to support the outdoor economy across Minnesota,” U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., told the Republican Eagle on Friday.

Craig, who sits on the House Small Business Committee, emphasized the importance of outdoor recreation in Minnesota, especially on lakes and rivers around Red Wing and Hastings in the 2nd Congressional District.

She said she expects Congress will hold hearings this fall on reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act, which provides for improvement and conservation projects.

Wooden said in a phone interview he was proud to represent the boating industry and, for the first time, bring the voice of boat dealers to Capitol Hill.

“I think we were heard,” he said.

Minnesota ranks first in the nation for watercraft per capita, with one boat for every six Minnesotans, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The state manages 35 water trails.