Radically Rural Track: Lands & Community
SESSION 2 (Sept. 22, 2:15-4 p.m.)
Exploring Nature, Renewing Communities
Rural communities are increasingly making outdoor recreation a cornerstone of their local economies, says an expert with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Stephanie Bertaina, a senior policy analyst at the EPA, focuses her time at the Office of Sustainable Communities in Washington, D.C. She says this pivot can help offset the loss of a key local business or industry.
“So, the question that arises is how to reinvent a location’s economy and sense of place to fit these new realities,” she says.
Bertaina, who will speak at Radically Rural’s Land and Community Track, says many rural areas have witnessed a decline of an existing industry, often some type of manufacturing. Many of these towns have outdoor resources that can be leveraged to make up some ground, deriving revenue from hiking, biking, hunting, fishing and other activities. There’s also a local health benefit.
EPA’s Healthy Places for Healthy People Program works with cities, towns and healthcare facilities to create walkable downtowns and neighborhoods. Additionally, Bertaina has managed the Local Foods, Local Places Program to support communities sourcing local foods from area sources — another economic benefit. And, most recently, The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities Program has worked with small towns to boost outdoor recreation.
The COVID-19 pandemic moved like a tornado, overrunning and overwhelming rural America, she says. Bertaina saw a silver lining, too.
“We have this opportunity to build back better and stronger, and to really tap into the power of outdoor recreation to not only resuscitate these places but offer them a boost into a better future,” she says.
With smart approaches to growth and a myriad of ideas for change, Bertaina is doing her best to provide planning assistance to dozens of towns as they begin the task of embracing recreation economies.
“By learning beside partners in communities across the country, I have developed an understanding of policies that work at the local, state and federal level that can support community revitalization, thriving communities, and economic development,” she says.
As part of the “Exploring Nature, Renewing Communities” session at Radically Rural, Bertaina hopes to leave participants with the belief they can and should be a part of the change for their communities.
“We can no longer have the same 10 people doing all of the work and supporting all of the growth in rural places,” she says. “It is time to recruit new people, take on new ways of doing things and focus on the already-present resources in these places to make a change and move forward,” she says. “I have a passion for people and places and have dedicated myself to helping people create the futures they want for the communities in which they live.”
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