More than 100 people packed into a meeting suite at St. Louis Union Station Hotel on January 11 to take part in a one-day think tank. The brainchild of Active Strategies and Terrain Magazine, the Gateway Outdoor Summit brought together leaders from around the country and locally to discuss opportunities for elevating the outdoor recreation industry in St. Louis.

“In Colorado, outdoor recreation is no longer seen as a sideline economy,” said keynote speaker Luiz Benitez, a St. Louis native who is now the director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. “But it’s not about playing like Colorado. It’s about playing like Missouri. Know what you do well and focus on it, celebrate it. Take that passion for the outdoors and connect it to strategy. Consider what your path can and should be.”

Summit attendees did just that during a panel on improving outdoor recreation access for all residents regardless of race, gender, mobility and skill level. Representatives from Bentonville, Arkansas; Roanoke, Virginia; and Duluth, Minnesota, gave short presentations on how outdoor recreation has transformed their communities. A visioning workshop used a real-time polling platform to show how attendees felt about specific outdoor activities and their wish list for the St. Louis outdoor recreation scene.

“From the panelists who shared a wealth of lifetime experience to those who are just starting out on an active lifestyle, the opportunity to learn from each other while broadening their networks was front and center,” said Trailent CEO Ralph Pfremmer, who helped facilitate the final workshop. “The ideas and connections forged [at the summit] certainly engendered a new camaraderie while setting an important stage for powerful acts of teamwork to come.”

Greg Brumitt, producer of the summit and principal of Active Strategies, says the event is just the start, a forum for imagining what is possible and beginning the conversation to building an exciting outdoor culture in St. Louis.

“Reaction to the Gateway Outdoor Summit has been quick and enthusiastic,” said Brumitt. “Early conversations coming out of the event signal interest in discussions that in the long-term could lead to planning a Missouri Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. There are also preliminary discussions regarding an initiative in west St. Louis County that could center on the great access to public lands and trails in the Meramec River Valley.

“These are the sorts of collaborative projects we’re hoping to foster at the summit,” Brumitt added. “Communities that use public land as a catalyst for vibrancy are really growing.”

Benitez agrees. “It’s a quality of life proposition,” he said. “Now is the time to translate that understanding into action towards deepening the outdoor recreation industry economy across the state.”

Discussions are also underway for a Missouri state trail/outdoor summit, says Brumitt, as well as for smaller community events held monthly in St. Louis to help build on the momentum the summit has created. A second Gateway Outdoor Summit is planned for 2020.

“A robust outdoor culture can not only build economy but also help create great places to live, work and play — and it’s time for St. Louis to join the movement,” said Brummit.