The Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (Aspen CSG) seeks to build equitable, economic development in rural communities. ASPEN CSG collaborated with The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to develop the Thrive Rural Framework to help community leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and other rural prosperity champions as they create equitable and sustainable economic change in rural communities. This framework informed their Thrive Rural Action-Learning Exchange (TRALE) series, which convened 27 rural economic and community development practitioners from rural and Native nation communities across the US. They sought to gain insights about best practices for creating equitable policies and practices that will increase the well-being in rural areas. The most recent series, Mapping a New Terrain, sought to answer the question, “What will it take for outdoor recreation economies to grow equitable rural prosperity?” They found that the cross-cutting, overarching recommendations could be condensed into the following five principles:

  1. Advance local, equitable, sustainable ownership and control of outdoor recreation assets
  2. Build resilient infrastructure that supports a flourishing community, including diverse outdoor recreations’ businesses and workers
  3. Work regionally to build trust, achieve scale and meet shared outdoor recreation challenges and opportunities
  4. Respect the local landscape, people and culture in the design and implementation of all development efforts
  5. Design for equitable access to and participation in outdoor recreation activities

Outdoor recreation is one of the largest economic sectors in the United States and can be a great option for rural communities to increase their tax revenue and create an overall healthier environment. However, the tourism industry has a history of inequitable practices leading to disproportionate pressures on marginalized communities. By focusing on the above principles, local and state leaders can work with the community to develop an outdoor recreation economy that will improve the health and wellbeing of all residents.