Marko Sturm (Slovenian) climbs the classic finger crack, Johnny Cat.
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Climbing Johnny Cat in Indian Creek, Utah; Photograph by Ryan Alonzo, My Shot
Marko Sturm (Slovenian) climbs the classic finger crack, Johnny Cat.

OIA: Making an Economic Case for Outdoor Recreation

Not all outdoor adventures involve throwing your dusty gear in the back of the car and taking off for points unknown. Sometimes you have to don a suit and hobnob with bigwigs on Capitol Hill. After all, if you’re going to influence policies that affect our places to play, you’ve got to play the government game.

Last week, several of us at Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) ventured to our nation’s capital to release “The Outdoor Recreation Economy.” A year and a half in the making, this report quantifies the economic impacts of outdoor recreation, which is big business in this country.

Economic benefits of the outdoor industry:
• 6.1 million direct American jobs
• $646 billion in direct sales and services to the U.S. economy each year
• $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue
• $39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue

Just how big of a deal is this? It’s huge. More than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives—and they prove it with their wallets. Outdoor recreation is a larger and more critical sector of the American economy that most people realize. It’s time to spread the word.

So we took our case to Washington, D.C., where we held an official briefing in the storied Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Building. It’s an ornate room steeped in history—the same place where they held the Watergate hearings many years ago. Our event was a bit more upbeat, to say the least.

We gathered more than 100 folks—media, conservation allies, congressional staffers, government officials, and so on—to announce our report and amplify our message: Outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse that fuels our country. This is serious business. And it deserves serious attention.

We had some influential folks speak on our behalf. Will Manzer, CEO of Eastern Mountain Sports, served as MC. Will’s a super nice guy. He’s the chair of OIA’s board of directors and an avid outdoor athlete, so he’s always willing to go the extra mile to help our cause. He pointed out that despite the recession, the outdoor recreation industry grew an average of 5 percent annually from 2005 to 2011.

Then Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) took the podium. He’s my senator, and he’s just awesome. He worked for Outward Bound for years, so he gets it. Udall said, “In Colorado, it’s in our blood to be outside, and it’s in our wallets.” He’s got that right. People in our state thrive on outdoor recreation, and our economy depends on it. OIA research from 2006 found that outdoor recreation pumps $10 billion annually into Colorado’s economy and supports 107,000 jobs. It’s hard to argue with these numbers.

Representative Charlie Bass (R-NH) also spoke, saying, “The fact that we have so much public land has created this economy, and we as public policymakers need to be here to sustain that.” Well said, Rep. Bass.

Then Dusty McCoy, CEO of Brunswick—the nation’s largest manufacturer of pleasure boats, took the stage and made the health connection. “Our nation is becoming unhealthy and obese, costing us $300 billion a year in healthcare. Outdoor recreation is a solution,” he told the crowd.

All in all, it was a great event. It brought together people from both sides of the aisle to trumpet the fact that outdoor recreation is no longer just “nice to have.” Beyond the individual benefits, outdoor recreation opportunities attract employers and talent to communities with access to quality open spaces. It’s critical that leaders across the country start to recognize the undeniable economic, social and health benefits of outdoor recreation.

Outdoor recreation means business, and that’s why we created this report. Armed with this data, we can show that outdoor recreation extracts economic benefit from public lands and waters without depleting the resources. We have an amazing system of public trails, rivers, parks and recreation areas around the country—a national outdoor recreation system, if you will—that fuels the economy and businesses large and small. We must devote adequate resources to protect it.

The next time you’re out enjoying the outdoors, don’t take it for granted. Feel good that when you take it outside, you are supporting American jobs and the economy. Our nation is blessed with abundant natural resources, and people who care enough to protect them. The forests, trails, rivers, lakes, and other natural areas where you play create healthier communities, support jobs, and make our world a better place to live, work and play.

Now go outside! And if you’re interested, you can check out “The Outdoor Recreation Economy” report here.

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.