HARRISBURG, Pa. – Over the past six months, Nathan Reigner has forged his own path as the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ first outdoor recreation director and reports that the trip has been not only productive but also fulfilling.
The new board member is a native of Pennsylvania from the southeastern part of the Commonwealth who left college after graduating to pursue a career in analysis.
He has worked with tourism councils and the National Park Service across the country and international locations such as Iceland, studying the viability of locations.
Reigner returned for a position at Penn State University in late 2019. As the COVID-19 pandemic restricted his travels, he began to reacquaint himself with his home region.
“I fell in love with my state again this summer and rode my bike all over central Pennsylvania,” he said.
“Suddenly I realized that I was surrounded by quality, accessible and diverse outdoor opportunities.”
When the DCNR volunteer position opened, Reigner applied because he saw it as a way of contributing to the community.
“Outdoor recreation is very important to us,” he said.
Its mission is to use resources without breaking them to provide meaningful outdoor experiences in Pennsylvania for state residents and visitors.
That drive stems from a moment a few years ago when he went from being a member of a service crew to a lost hiker in the woods of Shenandoah National Park.
Reigner said he went on a solo hike while volunteering and found himself detached and confused at his location.
This led to a realization of how massive and beautiful the forest actually was.
The moment of appreciation was followed by reasoning that helped him identify a felled tree and eventually an overgrown trail that helped him return to the Appalachian Trail.
“Nathan is an intelligent, thoughtful, collaborative and tireless advocate for outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania and the myriad benefits it offers,” said Benjamin Nasta, director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
“His work has helped the state recognize the spiritual, physical, social and economic benefits of the state’s outdoor recreation industry, which contributes $11.8 billion to Pennsylvania’s GDP and supports 146,000 jobs, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. “
He added that Reigner has a good grasp of other states’ best practices, as well as trends in the national recovery economy and characteristics of Pennsylvania.
“Nathan is the 17th director to be appointed statewide, and we’d like to see his efforts further amplified by the creation of a permanent Pennsylvania Bureau of Outdoor Recreation — that would be the 18th state to have either a Establishes or has an office The task force recommends an office — to help this crucial sector of the state economy continue to thrive,” Nasta said.
Reigner said he will be figuring out the scope and structure of his office this year and part of next while forging ties with groups across the state.
He said he also determines what the people of Pennsylvania need and want in recreational adventures.
“I’m working hard on data for outdoor recreation,” Reigner said, adding that he’s motivated by the needs of others.
One such connection is with the Outdoor Industry Association.
Rebecca Gillis, the organization’s manager of state and local government affairs, said she and the group are thrilled to be working with Reigner in his new role.
“It’s a tall order and Director Reigner has shown he’s up for the challenge,” she said.
“I know he has traveled almost continuously, primarily meeting with the leaders of Pennsylvania’s outdoor economy, economic development partners and other key stakeholders. He makes a point of listening and better understanding what these people’s most immediate needs are.
“His desire for inclusivity has been demonstrated, and he has actively sought insight and guidance from partners in many of the shared learning venues that public sector leaders in the outdoor industry rely on to strengthen the state and federal economy. “
Gillis added that every state that has created an outdoor recreation director “publicly recognizes the importance of the role of nature and the outdoor economy in the health and well-being of its citizens, as well as the financial health of the state.”
She said, “Pennsylvania’s outdoor economy is growing and has the potential to continue to create growing economic, social and health benefits for the citizens of the state.”
A fisherman’s story
A story Reigner tells that captures his mission for nature is about scientists studying anglers in Minnesota.
They tried to find out why fishermen enjoyed the activity and what makes a good day on the water.
The researchers asked the anglers how their day was and were repeatedly told it was good.
When the scientists pointed out that people hadn’t caught many fish, Reigner said, they were told that might be true – but: “I saw the sunrise this morning and there was this eagle flying overhead constantly, and I had heavy things on my heart and I was spending the day in a boat with a mate and we were talking about it…we had a great day fishing.”
“The lessons of this story are that there is more to fishing than just catching fish,” he said.
“If fishing is more than catching fish, then outdoor recreation is more than activity. In other words, a hike is not about walking. Rafting is not about being in a boat. Outdoor recreation is inherently like a psychological process or act that involves satisfying our motivation to receive benefits.
“And we’re talking about quality time with friends and family, learning and discovery, escaping, challenge and achievement, being a member of a community of outdoor recreational athletes, those kinds of things and status and confidence and physical and mental health and social connectivity , which we later receive and thrive on.”
Reigner also correlates quality of life with these types of opportunities and how the former improves as the latter increases.
He pointed to a study examining the quality of life and business environment in small and medium-sized rural and industrial cities in the American Midwest.
For Reigner, these places are interchangeable with the many parishes in the Commonwealth.
“As the quality of life increases, the population grows and unemployment falls,” he said.
“Quality of life will be the engine of development and vitality in small and medium-sized rural and industrial Pennsylvania towns, and quality of life is a product of outdoor recreation, the historic preservation of our downtown areas, and the availability of temporary cultural services. these are breweries, interesting restaurants, art and music festivals.”