End of the Trail (Updated June 8)

Climbers preparing to ascend Mt. St. Helens

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has hired Cailin O’Brien-Feeney as its first head of the Oregon Office of Outdoor Recreation.

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Cailin headshot2O’Brien-Feeney has been the state and local policy manager for the Outdoor Industry Association since 2015.

“We’re happy Cailin agreed to come back to Oregon and work with the team focusing on improving outdoor recreation here,” said Lisa Sumption, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department director, in a press release.

“There’s a strong community in place that will benefit from his policy leadership as we work to make the benefits of outdoor recreation available to every Oregonian.”

O’Brien-Feeney has an undergraduate degree in environmental studies from Lewis and Clark college and and an environmental science graduate degree from the University of Idaho.

ORIGINAL STORY: Oregon’s lengthy search for a director of outdoor recreation is coming to a close. Now the real work begins.  

The marathon search for Oregon’s first director of outdoor recreation, a position offered in only four states, might soon reach the finish line. The state Parks Department could announce a hire by the end of the week.

The agency spent over a year searching for the right candidate. It received 115 resumes in round one — and tossed them all.

On the second go around, the department asked a network of nonprofits and businesses involved in creating the position for headhunting help. “They went back to their networks and shook the tree a little harder,” says associate director Chris Havel.

Two candidates tumbled out. Havel describes both as promising. The department is interviewing them this week.

“They went back to their networks and shook the tree a little harder.” — Chris Havel

Why did the search take so long?

Consider the job description: The new director needs to be the Swiss army knife of outdoor economics. They should know their way around a climbing rope and a fly rod—and a land use policy and community outreach meeting. They need to be up to speed on the politics of the outdoors, from conservation to privatization. Their name should mean something in business, nonprofits and government.  

Outdoor recreation in Oregon covers a wider area than people think, Havel says. It’s not just about the Coast, Smith Rock and Mount Hood. Underserved rural areas also need representation.

Plus, the director isn’t just in charge of the newly formed office of outdoor recreation. They are the office.  

“It’s funny to say it’s the office of outdoor recreation,” Havel says. “It’s one person.”

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Tom Adams knows something about the complexity of the new position. Adams is director of outdoor recreation in Utah, the first state in the country to create the position — in 2013. Since then, Adams has advised other states on adding a new outdoor recreation chief. Only three other states—Colorado, Washington, and now Oregon—have a state outdoor recreation director.

Oregon and Utah have a lot in common when it comes to outdoor recreation, Adams says. Both states feature mountains, rivers and deserts. Both headquarter big-name hardware manufacturing companies — Black Diamond and Petzl in Salt Lake City, Metolius and Hydro Flask in Bend.

Yet Oregon’s bigger, more diverse industry significantly complicates the director job here. Oregon boasts a major feature Utah doesn’t: a coastline (we’re not counting the Great Salt Lake).

“When I think about also having an ocean,” Adams says. “It’s mind boggling how one person will do this.”

“When I think about also having an ocean,” Adams says. “It’s mind boggling how one person will do this.”

Oregon’s outdoor industry cluster includes apparel companies like Columbia, Nike and Keen. That adds up to a heavy hitting outdoor economy: consumers spend about $16.4 billion on outdoor recreation in Oregon. Oregonians hike, climb, ski, bike, fish, hunt and do most every other conceivable outdoor activity.

The director will need to learn their vocabulary.

“Nobody does all of those things,” Havel says, “but you have to understand them.”

Oregon’s new director will serve as a human switchboard for the outdoor industry. They’ll connect CEOs, land managers and policy wonks across the state.

“The biggest challenge right out of the gate,” Adams says, “will be making sure everybody knows who he or she is and what the objective is.”

They won’t go it completely alone. The one-man office, Havel says, will get outside support from other Parks department’ employees. A recreation researcher, policy analyst and community outreach specialist will stack some outdoor recreation work on top of their normal duties.

Outdoor Recreation Impact in Oregon: $16.4 billion


The new director will have to enter into the complex politics of outdoor recreation. In both Utah and Oregon, outdoor gear companies have tangled in environmental conservation campaigns.

The Trump Administration has threatened to shrink national monuments — Utah’s Bears Ears, Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.

Gear companies responded by throwing their economic weight around. Keen launched its “Live Monumental” campaign. Outdoor Retailer, the industry’s flagship trade show, pulled out of Salt Lake City.

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Adams says he has to consider how much outdoor companies should pay for natural resource conservation.

Hunters already pay a conservation tax, he says. But as more people flock to wilderness destinations, Utah and Oregon will need more tax revenue to preserve those areas. They’ll likely look to gear companies.

In the near future, Adams says, “the outdoor industry is going to be called to the table for more solutions on how to do this.”

“The biggest challenge right out of the gate,” Adams says, “will be making sure everybody knows who he or she is and what the objective is.”

If all that sounds intimidating, the Utah director offers a few words of encouragement.

“It will be overwhelming to learn all the people, places and things that are out there,” Adams says. “But the job has the opportunity to have a big impact, whether that’s bringing lots of dollars and jobs to a community or just building a trail.”

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