Sustainable Advantage

Outdoor Recreation and Rural Community Development in California

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The Rural Advantage

Outdoor recreation initiatives promise tax revenue and job creation, among other benefits, for rural communities in California. However, projects often face strong headwinds that frustrate their long term impact. Our research summarizes the major issues identified during executive interviews from leaders in the Central and Northern Sierra, Southern Cascades, and Greater Sacramento regions. Interviewees told us about the factors that shape their communities as well as the challenges and opportunities for rural California and community development generally, and outdoor recreation specifically.

We hope that this research reflects back the experiences of the interviewees as a perspective on community needs of rural California and the benefits outdoor recreation can provide. The paper provides findings and recommendations for practitioners and policymakers. The research indicates that furthering outdoor recreation as a community strategy can lead to a cascade of community benefits that may improve the economic, social, and environmental conditions of rural California.

About Us

We are not policy experts or academics. We are working community and economic development practitioners who are passionate about outdoor recreation and protecting the places where we recreate. We are also outsiders in many regards. Even though we have both spent a lifetime recreating and competing in rural communities, we are city dwellers. We were trained at urban schools. We work in urban communities.


We think that partnerships between urban and rural California, and furthering understanding on the part of city people like us will be vital as we move into the middle of the 21st Century. Together, we must set goals to support rural community vitality and prosperity, and to protect the character and environment of rural places.

Fran is a community development and real estate finance professional. She runs the west coast office for an investment management company. Outside of her professional endeavors, Fran is an avid mountain biker and helps run a 100 member competitive cycling club, Team Roaring Mouse. She also rock climbs and trail runs regularly. Fran holds a master’s degree in community planning with a specialization in real estate finance from the University of Maryland.

Aaron Wilcher is a practicing workforce and community development professional. He was a competitive cycling athlete for 13 years, and now rides for fun. He also is an avid backcountry skier. He holds master’s degrees in city planning from UC Berkeley and American studies from Saint Louis University, and has taken courses in the Wilderness Education program at Lake Tahoe Community College and with the National Ski Patrol.

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