With the summer season upon us, countless runners and outdoor enthusiasts are taking to public lands and waters for recreation. As the number of Americans enjoying these spaces grows each year, there is a significant opportunity to enhance the management of our favorite outdoor spaces, safeguarding our beloved landscapes while enriching outdoor experiences.

This spring a pivotal moment was reached as the US House of Representatives unanimously approved the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences Act (EXPLORE Act), marking a significant step forward for a comprehensive set of proposed outdoor recreation-focused laws. If the US Senate follows suit, it will signal a historic bipartisan effort to enhance outdoor recreation across public lands and waters. Among the diverse activities addressed in the act, trail runners and road runners stand to benefit from specific provisions.

The EXPLORE Act encompasses several bills that have long been advocated for by recreation advocates and the outdoor industry aimed at improving access, advancing stewardship, managing growing visitation impacts, bolstering the outdoor recreation economy, and streamlining event permitting, including races.

Notably, the EXPLORE Act permanently establishes two crucial programs: the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation that will facilitate land manager coordination, improve access, and expanded recreational opportunities, and the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership that provides grant funding to develop green spaces and outdoor access to urban areas and specifically targeting economically disadvantaged communities. Through the creation of urban infrastructure such as running paths and parks, this program has the potential to greatly expand equitable access to outdoor recreation opportunities, including running, in the communities that are most impacted by environmental degradation.

Of particular interest to trail runners and race directors is the SOAR Act, which modernizes recreational permitting for outfitters and event organizers on federal public lands, simplifying processes and enhancing accessibility. While some provisions in the EXPLORE Act may not directly pertain to runners, they hold potential benefits for rest days or cross-training activities. These include measures like the Biking on Long Distance Trails Act (BOLT) and the Protecting America’s Rock Climbing Act (PARC), which designate sustainable trails and safeguard climbing areas on public lands.

Furthermore, the EXPLORE Act addresses various recreation management challenges and opportunities, such as expanding parking, standardizing data collection, facilitating online pass sales and fee collection, modernizing film and photo permitting, promoting youth and veteran engagement, and fostering sustainable local economies.

The passage of the EXPLORE Act is a culmination of years of advocacy from the outdoor recreation community, including coalitions like the Outdoor Alliance. Runners for Public Lands celebrates this achievement and urges the US Senate to swiftly pass its own version of the recreation package, known as America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA). You can help this effort by contacting your US Senators and advocating for the prompt enactment of the AORA and supporting much-needed policy reforms to enhance outdoor recreation access. The voices of trail runners can play a vital role in advancing this legislation.