Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation industry experienced a historic surge in 2022, setting a new economic record.
A report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlighted that the sector contributed $9.8 billion to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), a 6.8% increase from the previous year’s record.
This growth is part of a national trend, with the U.S. outdoor recreation industry exceeding $1 trillion in gross output, representing 2.2% of the nation’s GDP.
According to a news release from Gov. Tony Evers, the substantial increase in the industry’s contribution to the state’s GDP underscores the growing importance of outdoor activities in the state’s economy.
Monroe Brown, director of the Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreation, emphasized the economic significance of the sector. “These historic numbers are a testament to the importance of the outdoors and the outdoor recreation economy to Wisconsin,” Brown said. He highlighted the industry’s role in driving tourism, workforce attraction, and retention across various economic sectors.
The most significant contributor to the state’s outdoor recreation revenue was motorcycling, ATVing, and UTVing, which brought in $1.1 billion.
This figure represents nearly 10% of the national total for this category. Other key activities contributing to the state’s economy included boating and fishing, generating $710 million, and RVing, contributing $553 million. These activities are also among the highest contributors nationally.
Additionally, multi-use apparel and accessories, game areas like golf courses, guided tours and outfitted travel, hunting, and bicycling were major contributors to the state’s outdoor recreation economy. These activities collectively added billions to Wisconsin’s GDP, showcasing the diverse range of outdoor recreational opportunities available in the state.
The state also witnessed growth in travel and tourism sectors. In 2022, travel increased by 14.2% and tourism by 8.7%, adding $3 billion to the GDP. This growth indicates a rising interest in Wisconsin as a travel destination, particularly for outdoor activities.
The outdoor industry’s impact on employment was also significant, contributing over 94,000 jobs, which is 3.1% of the state’s workforce. This employment growth reflects the industry’s expanding role in the state’s economic landscape.
State Tourism Secretary Anne Sayers highlighted the appeal of Wisconsin’s natural attractions. “The outdoors is consistently cited as a top reason visitors choose Wisconsin,” Sayers said. She credited the state’s natural beauty and the dedication of local destinations, guides, and outfitters for enhancing one of Wisconsin’s top tourism products.
The state’s natural resources received further recognition with the Ice Age trail and the North Country National scenic trails becoming part of the National Park Service. These trails join other Wisconsin landmarks like the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, enhancing the state’s appeal to outdoor enthusiasts.
For campground owners and outdoor hospitality operators in Wisconsin, these developments present significant opportunities. The increasing popularity of outdoor activities can drive more visitors to campgrounds and RV parks, boosting local economies. Campground owners can capitalize on this trend by enhancing their facilities and offering diverse outdoor experiences to cater to the growing number of outdoor enthusiasts.
Wisconsin’s record-breaking year in outdoor recreation not only highlights the state’s natural beauty and diverse activities but also underscores the sector’s vital role in driving economic growth and job creation. This trend offers promising prospects for the state’s campground and outdoor hospitality industry, contributing to Wisconsin’s overall economic health and community well-being.