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News for January 25, 2022

Wyoming Outdoor Rec Industry Wobbled During Pandemic But Remains Vital for Local Economy

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In the wake of the pandemic, spikes in park visits, campground reservations, trail usage, and other indicators were not enough to carry the economic development of Wyoming‘s outdoor recreational industry in 2020.

However, many policy and business officials consider outdoor recreation to be essential in boosting Wyoming‘s economy and as a way to recover from the pandemic-driven slump, a report said.

“Tourism and outdoor recreation have become major contributors to our revenues. Most of those dollars are paid for by visitors, not our citizens,” Gov. Mark Gordon told the Joint Appropriations Committee on December 16 as he proposed earmarking $40 million in federal stimulus funds for outdoor-recreation grants.

Outdoor recreation contributed $1.25 billion to Wyoming‘s GDP in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) figures released in November. With 3.4 percent, this put Wyoming fourth out of 50 states in terms of the percentage of its economy driven by outdoor recreation.

Both of these measures were lower than the year prior, in which $1.69 billion (4.2 percent) of the state’s gross domestic product was attributed to the outdoor recreation industry.

In the entire country, outdoor recreation’s GDP decreased from 2019 to 2020. Gross output and compensation have also decreased.

In Wyoming, employment in outdoor recreation was hit hard by a decline of 24 percent from 21,344 jobs to 14,187.

However, the poor economic growth is in stark contrast to anecdotal sources and visitation data that revealed high figures at the pandemic’s beginning. The overall declines in Wyoming were driven by industries heavily affected by the pandemic and restrictions, as per Chris Floyd, manager of Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.

According to Wyoming Office of Tourism Executive Director Diane Shober, another factor that affected the economic impact of the entire region was the nature of visitation.

“There was a lot of day-tripping,” she said. “There’s still economic value in day-trippers,” but not as much as overnighters.

COVID-19 has also forced many businesses to restrict their operations such as lodging, restaurants, and tours. She said the number of visitors decreased, and jobs were lost.

The high number of tourists, Shober stated, may have resulted in the perception of the best time for outdoor tourism. “But yet, it doesn’t always equate to … a positive economic benchmark.”

Complete 2021 numbers aren’t yet available, but there are signs of a continued increase in outdoor rec.

Wyoming‘s State Parks and Historic Sites’ 2021 official numbers are expected to be in line with or surpass the record-setting figures of 2020, the agency said in December. Through October, the historic and state parks experienced 5.1 million visits, which is a rise of 24 percent over the five-year average of the system.

“We’re still way up,” Floyd stated.

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