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New state office looking to improve on recreational economy

This undated photo shows Downing Creek falls near Marion Forks, Ore. The area features a swirling creek and waterfall blanketed with a thick carpet of moss. Most amazing of all, however, is that the waterfall is a short drive from Oregon's Highway 22 near Detroit and Marion Forks. (Zach Urness/Statesman-Journal via AP)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A newly created state office is hoping to take Oregon's recreational economy from good to great.

The Office of Outdoor Recreation was created by the state lawmakers last legislative session in response to the decline in the percentage of Oregonians who take part in outdoor recreation, the Statesman Journal reported Sunday.

While the recreational economy continues to be strong in cities such as Bend and Portland, Chris Havel with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department said the state is concerned about other regions that are falling behind and want to figure out what can be done about it.

The new office will begin by focusing on improving access and participation to outdoor recreation and the stewardships and sustainability of resources.

"The goal is to see outdoor recreation reach its full potential through a unified strategy," Havel said.

Some have called the new office an unnecessary expense and doubt it will pay much attention to hunting, fishing and motorized recreation because its prominent supporters — Keen Footwear and REI — are known to primarily support hiking, biking and kayaking.

"Despite the fact that hunting is a longstanding and strong economic driver, Oregon's government continues to ignore it," said Dominic Aiello, president of the Oregon Outdoor Council, which promotes hunting. "Travel Oregon, the state's official tourism office, doesn't even list hunting under the 'Things To Do' for outdoor recreation in Oregon."

Havel denies that the office will prioritize select forms of recreation, but he did recognize that outdoor recreation is a vast industry to work with. "The only comfort is there's a large community ready to help, and a hunger to find a better way forward," he said.

The state is still in process of finding a director to lead the unit.

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