Various U.S. states and communities have taken the initiative to revamp their outdoor recreation economy since it is an industry that brings in investors, improves the quality of life of locals, and supports and protects the environment of the communities.
According to data by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), outdoor recreation accounted for 1.8% of the U.S. GDP in 2021, with $689B in gross output and 4.3M jobs.
Since January 2020, new activities have entered the industry, with skateboarding, hiking, kayaking, and surfing having the highest growth rates across outdoor categories. Several fashion trends are also red hot, including “Cottage Core” and “Coastal Grandmother.”
Gov’t Agencies Supporting Small Outdoor Recreation Economies
In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with other agencies, announced they would assist 25 small and rural communities from across the country to grow their outdoor recreation economies through the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program.
Other agencies assisting the communities are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC).
RERC is a planning assistance program jointly administered by the EPA, the USDA Forest Service, NBRC, and ARC. It helps rural communities leverage outdoor recreation to revitalize their main streets, improving environmental protection and public health outcomes.
“Outdoor recreation activities can bring new investment to local economies, encourage people to revitalize existing downtowns and conserve natural resources, and lead to improved quality of life for residents and visitors,” said Vicki Arroyo, EPA Associate Administrator for Policy, in a statement.
“This assistance will help rural areas explore ways that outdoor recreation can strengthen their communities, create jobs, and boost access to the outdoors for everyone.”
The 25 communities it has partnered with this year are Akwesasne, Granville, and Salamanca in New York; Bangor in Maine; Beverly, Coshocton, and South Point in Ohio; Brunswick in Maryland; Buchanan and Buena Vista in Virginia; Butte in Montana; Clairfield in Tennessee; Claremont in New Hampshire; Columbiana in Alabama; Fairfield County in South Carolina; Fayetteville in West Virginia; Guadalupe, Quincy, and Yreka in California; Haines in Alaska; Hartwell in Georgia; Jenkins and Mckee in Kentucky; Marshfield in Vermont; Monte Vista in Colorado.
The program will support the communities in building new trail systems, improving access and walkability along main streets, increasing access to outdoor activities for all residents and visitors, and strengthening outdoor recreation businesses.
They will also get support in adapting to the climate impacts that affect coastal resources, wildfires, and winter recreation opportunities, cleaning up and repurposing vacant buildings, and creating new parks and recreation amenities.
Monte Vista’s Key To Growth
For Monte Vista, Mick Daniel, who directs the non-profit San Luis Valley Great Outdoors, said building up the town’s outdoor economy is critical for the area’s growth and getting people to stop in Monte Vista is a priority.
In a report, Daniel said that Monte Vista’s annual Sandhill Crane Festival, which features 20,000 migrating cranes, is an asset for the town.
He said that pairing traffic from the festival with enhanced access to the outdoors could help make Monte Vista a destination for more visitors looking to get outside.
Daniel said more trails in town and access to the Rio Grande River are a few of the keys to building up Monte Vista’s outdoor opportunities. To his knowledge, there is only one trail accessible from town and no access to the Rio Grande River. He hopes a bike shop or gear store will pop up as these activities are primed to grow.
State Initiatives For Rural Development
Pennsylvania also appointed its first-ever Director of Outdoor Recreation. The state hired Nathan Reigner, Ph. D to help them explore ways to fully leverage its $29 billion budget for outdoor recreation, from enhancing the quality of life of Pennsylvanians to improving public health.
In a press release, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced last week that the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments had been awarded $1.4 million to boost outdoor recreation by enhancing trail capacity along the Manistee County Rural Communities Multi-Use Trail.
The funding is part of a U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant program. The project is expected to support a total of 65 jobs in the area.
“This grant to support Northern Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry will help us continue growing our economy, creating good-paying jobs, and investing in every region of the state,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a press release.
“The investment will create or retain 65 good-paying jobs in Traverse City to extend the Betsie Valley Trail and build a bridge over Bear Creek. Earlier this year, I signed the bipartisan Building Michigan Together Plan, which made the largest one-time investment in our state and local parks in state history, bolstering countless tourism and recreation businesses across Michigan.
“Today’s grant builds on that plan to invest in pure Michigan and will help us keep moving forward,” she said.