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
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...