Since August 2017—when Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed HB 3350 to create the state's first Office of Outdoor Recreation—the hiring process for the department head has been, well, exactly that: a process. Finally, on June 8, the Oregon Park and Recreation Department announced its pick, effectively ending the 10-month search.
As of June 28, the brand-new agency will officially have a leader (managing an office of, um, one). Meet Cailin O’Brien Feeney: skier, cyclist, climber, surfer, one-time river guide, and, for a few more days, the state and local policy manager for the Denver-based Outdoor Industry Association.
“It’s part of my soon-to-be-previous role to work with outdoor industry brands and nonprofit partners and state officials, so I’m very much plugged into this world,” O’Brien Feeney says. "Although I haven’t lived in Oregon in the past decade, it is where I fell in love with the outdoors."
That love stems from work leading outdoor excursions and tours while pursuing his bachelor's degree from Lewis & Clark College. After college, O'Brien Feeney was a river guide in Oregon and Idaho and, later, a fellow with the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2015, he landed his job with OIA, coordinating policy and working with locals and other conservation groups.
O'Brien Feeney concedes his new job won't be easy; he'll have to trailblaze the office's operations while balancing potentially conflicting—and impassioned—feedback from a range of interest groups. The ultimate goal? To boost outdoor recreation participation within Oregon over time.
"There are conflicts between certain kinds of recreation," O'Brien Feeney says. "Mediation will be a part of it, no doubt, but I take a more optimistic view. I see this position as convening and removing barriers, and figuring out what laws, policies, and partnerships we can use."
Granted, O’Brien Feeney steps into this role without a guide, so his exact duties remain a bit speculative. In the spirit of mediating all those competing future demands, we asked three local stakeholders what they think should be O'Brien Feeney's first priority:
Adam Baylor, Stewardship and Advocacy Manager, Mazamas:
Whether it’s overcrowding, or trash, or erosion, or parking, there are major issues right now associated with outdoor recreation activities. But I think the no. 1 thing we [want to collaborate on] is trail maintenance and trail development throughout the entire state. I think this office has a really good opportunity to jumpstart that. What we’ve got in place already is a solid foundation. A couple years back, Travel Oregon made this framework for an outdoor recreation initiative. [So] in a way, the ship has been built—we just need a captain. I hope this director can really navigate some of these problems and deal with competing interests.
Brooke Sandahl, Vice President, Metolius Climbing:
I think he’s going to want to identify what the recreation opportunities are, go through them numerically, and see what each one of those is generating; identify the winners and put together a comprehensive plan to enhance them. He should do what’s best economically for the state, but also be very careful to look at the indigenous people's rights, look at private property rights, and basically define what the state has to offer—I don’t know if that’s been done super thoroughly yet.
Sean Stevens, Executive Director, Oregon Wild:
We work a lot on public lands protection. It’s a place where the state's voice is especially important right now in the federal landscape. We have to make sure we’re doing a good job to protect them, and it’s important that this office act as a voice to push back against federal policies that would undermine protections for public lands. We’ve recently had a disinvestment in environmental infrastructure at the state and federal level, and that’s going to continually be a challenge. We’ll be looking to inform—from our perspective and priorities as a coalition—what the office might pursue. Cailin is familiar with a lot of the players in our coalition so I think there will be a natural working relationship from the start.