A&O Feature: Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, Director at Oregon Office of Outdoor Recreation

Cailin O’Brien-Feeney is the Director of the State of Oregon’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, a branch of Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department. This new office, established in spring of 2018, coordinates and streamlines the state’s outdoor recreation policy, working with environmental agencies to help promote and preserve access to Oregon’s unique natural landscape.

The Office of Outdoor Recreation was created because outdoor recreation is vitally important to Oregonians. It fuels our communities and our economy and as a state we can be doing more to conserve our surroundings for all to enjoy. With one year under his belt, we wanted to catch up with Cailin to learn more about his role, his vision for the department, and what support he needs from the Portland A&O Industry.


How do you describe your role?

As the Outdoor Sector Lead my job is to be a resource, partner and an advocate. As someone whose always worked either in the outdoors, or ‘for the outdoors,’ I simply can’t think of a better job than helping more people get outdoors and supporting this sector of our economy. It is important for folks to know that they can help shape our future, and many of the best days over the last year have been spent with people also living their passion. The outdoor community is filled with smart, dedicated professionals and volunteers – I want them all to know, your readers included, that this is very much a team effort. I work for them.

How has the first year in this role been like? 

There are challenges inherent to being a start-up within government, but we are finding a groove even if it is taking a bit longer than anticipated. A lot of that stems from the fact that while the office was established within the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the mission extends across a wide range of partners. Tourism, business development, land managers and elected officials all have a role in outdoor recreation and economic development, which means my job is really collaborative. In large part, success is found in helping businesses, NGOs and other agencies meet their mission and goals.

photo credit Sam Drevo, from the Oregon Outdoor Recreation Summit, May 2019

What are your plans for 2019? 

Admittedly, our approach has been somewhat scattershot to start just seeing where public interest is strongest and trying to be additive, not redundant. In 2019 and beyond, work will still be highly collaborative but it’ll also be more strategic now that I have my feet under me.

In May, we hosted the first Oregon Outdoor Recreation Summit in Bend with around 300 peers from across the outdoor community. I’m excited to haver Rue Mapp (founder of Outdoor Afro) and Colin O’Brady (adventurer, Portlander) as well as the scholarship program we’ve put together. We now have the right folks in the room, not just those who can afford it. We have a study in process that will for the first time measure jobs and economic impact of the outdoor industry in Oregon down to the county level – that’ll be huge, and one of several projects partnering with Travel Oregon. There are also several bills being considered in the state legislature right now that are of interest – critical funding for search and rescue, piloting programs with military veterans that use time outside in nature as therapy, and grants to invest in capacity building and technical assistance for outdoor gear and apparel entrepreneurs.

What is your big vision for your role? 

Outdoor recreation will be broadly recognized as both core to our economy and way of life in Oregon. That means strong job opportunities, and the right sort of training to help people of all backgrounds thrive in this industry. In Oregon, we are drawing from our rich outdoor heritage and doubling down on our knack for innovation. It means that every Oregonian has the opportunity to get outdoors and live a healthy, happier life. And it means that we are taking care of the places that make our home special, prioritizing conservation so this way of life continues long after we are gone.

What gaps or opportunities have you seen in the Oregon laws, policies or programs that could help us enjoy the benefits of outdoor recreation?

Earlier this spring, Governor Brown asked me to convene a ‘Governor’s Task Force on the Outdoors’ to really dig deep on exactly that, and make some strategic recommendations for further action. Thirty people from around the state, including Prosper Portland’s own Sue Bal, were appointed to the group in April. Our charge from the Governor over the next year is to hone in on “policies, legislation and initiatives to support economic development in both rural and urban areas, balance improved outdoor recreation access with resource protection, and increase outdoor recreation participation, especially among youth and traditionally underserved communities.”

In short, there are many and the task ahead is to prioritize them – I’m thrilled we have the team assembled to do exactly that.

Photo from ‘Confluence Signing” featuring all eight state recreation directors, July 2018.

How are you focusing and addressing equity and inclusion?

One of the specific goals of our work is to increase outdoor participation among youth and traditionally underserved communities, and that goal exists because we know as a state that we have work to do before recreation demographics match Oregon as a whole. Likewise, we have direction from the Governor to ensure state Boards and Commissions represent the growing age, racial and gender diversity of the state. The First Gentleman has shown great leadership in seeking to increase diversity of participants through his Roadmap to the Outdoors work.

What all these examples have in common is listening first, publicly stating the goals, and for me now the next step is to implement what we’ve heard from community leaders. An example would be doing more to support non-profits groups that lead outdoor programs – as a state I think we should be doing more to support those efforts, and I’ll work to unlock resources to help support these advancements.

What type of support have you gotten from A&O in Portland?

Business leaders have a keen understanding of what would help them, and what barriers are. Sometimes these are really specific examples, around the need for improved infrastructure, access to capital, or workforce development needs for example. I would say the biggest source of support has been as a source of ideas, and support to implement them.

What type of support are you still looking for in Portland?

One thing I’m inspired by is the A&O ‘ecosystem’ in Portland. I’d like to learn from how that was built, and how it is used locally, because I’ve heard from stakeholders that doing something similar statewide would be of immense benefit.

On a bigger scale though, I would encourage people and businesses to become even more civically engaged – the values of this industry around supporting good jobs and sustainability are where Oregon is heading, and the more we get engaged the clearer it will become that we are leading the way.

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Portland A&O Community monthly features are our way to highlight different jobs, roles, and programs impacting and supporting Oregon’s impressive A&O industry. By sharing stories, advice and experiences, we can continue to support the industry and the people who make it thrive.

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Prosper Portland creates economic growth and opportunity for Portland. Our vision is to make Portland one of the most globally competitive, healthy, and equitable cities in the world by investing in job creation, encouraging broad economic prosperity, and fostering great places throughout the city. We aspire to be a workplace of choice with passionate staff excelling in an open and empowering environment and sharing a commitment to our collective success.