How recreation boosts the economy

From travelers to new residents, outdoor enthusiasts make an impact on the West’s bottom lines.

 

Across the country, the outdoor recreation industry puts millions of people to work and boosts the economy by hundreds of billions of dollars. To cash in on some of that spending, many communities trumpet the recreation opportunities available to visitors, in the hopes that travelers will stay in local hotels, book local tours and dine at local restaurants.

Sources: Headwaters Economics; U.S. Department of Commerce

But do recreation amenities lure new residents — who might bring even more economic benefits — as well as tourists? To find out, Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group, looked at where populations have grown or dwindled since 2010. They compared counties where the economy is closely tied to entertainment and seasonal visitors’ spending, or “recreation counties,” to counties with economies driven by other factors.

The number of people who moved to each type of county, and how much money they brought with them, was different at distinct levels of urbanization. Here are some of Headwaters’ results:

Source: Headwaters Economics

Statewide benefits in Montana

The vast majority of Montana’s 1 million residents — 87% — label themselves outdoor enthusiasts. They’re responsible for more than half of the $7.1 billion spent on outdoor activities in the state every year, including rafting or fishing the state’s nearly 170,000 miles of river. Residents and visitors alike are drawn by the natural assets of Big Sky Country: Montana’s booming recreation economy is built around the cornerstone of the 33.8 million acres of public land within its borders.

Even seemingly small recreation areas can have a big impact. The 42-mile Whitefish Trail, sections of which snake around ponds and lakes near the town of Whitefish, contributes $6.4 million to the economy every year. The trail system supports more than one job for every mile of its length,  putting residents to work at local businesses like the Whitefish Bike Retreat, where visitors can rent bicycles, spend the night or arrange for a trail shuttle.

Source: Headwaters Economics

Local benefits in North Idaho

Rural Bonner County, in North Idaho, hosts about 660 miles of trails for biking, hiking, riding ATVs and other activities. The area has a robust recreation culture, which in turn supports gear shops, lodging, restaurants and guide services.

Source: Headwaters Economics

Thumbnail: Outdoor recreation supports a variety of establishments, including Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, Montana. Credit: Wesley Fryer/CC via Flickr

Luna Anna Archey is the associate photo editor at High Country News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.