Human-Powered Recreation Has Economic Clout
Here's an eye-popping number: $730 billion.
That's the total economic impact human-powered recreationalists -- hikers, cyclists, anglers, wildlife watchers, hunters, paddlers and skiers -- have on the U.S. economy. The number was unveiled late last week during the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City.
The number's significance is that those who rely on their muscles -- not snowmobiles, ATVs or other gas-powered inventions -- to enjoy the outdoors are an incredible engine (no pun intended) in the nation's economy and should be recognized for it by the policy wonks in Washington.
Whether that recognition will be forthcoming, particularly in terms of the management of our national system, is hard to say.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was on hand to hear the economic data and outwardly said all the right things, such as the study demonstrates the high value of public lands and the need to preserve them for future generations.
But he failed, as I previously noted, to state unequivocally that there would be no more changes to the National Park Service's Management Policies before they take effect.
That said, let's take a closer look at that big number.
The study, which was prepared for the Outdoor Industry Foundation by Southwick Associates, Inc., noted that active outdoor recreation trips generate $243 billion a year in terms of meals, transportation, entertainment, activities, lodging, etc.
At the same time, those of you who play outdoors spend $46 billion a year on tents, backpacks, fishing poles, skis, clothing and anything else you need to take into the outdoors.
Those two numbers have an incredible ripple effect. The trips you take generate $379 billion a year for suppliers, companies, employees and everyone else who benefits from your trips. At the same time, your gear purchases generate a similar $62 billion ripple. Add all these numbers up and you get to that $730 billion number.
After the press conference, I asked Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association, why the study didn't include the economic contributions of snowmobilers, ATVers, and other motorized recreationalists.
"This is about active recreation. This is about any of the activities that mean you have to get up of or out of or off of whatever brought you there," he told me. "We focused on that one because it's the core and the largest segment of all recreation by far. And it also is the one that's contributing most to the health of the economy."
Mr. Hugelmeyer also told me that snowmobilers represent just 2 percent of Americans, while hikers and bikers can count 40 or 50 percent of the American public. "When you aggregate all of the active lifestyle, you're talking about close to 70 percent of Americans. It's overwhelmingly, by far, much larger than those (motorized) activities," he said.
"Now, they (motorized fans) certainly deserve places to play," he added. '"But the one that is going to benefit the American public the most, through reduced health-care costs as well as a continuing rising economy that balances the healthy local communities based on clean water, clean air, great places to play, protected well into the future for our children, is the active lifestyle."
Here are some more interesting numbers from the study:
* 60 million, the number of Americans who bicycle
* 45 million, the number who camp
* 33 million, the number who like to fish
* 13 million, the number of hunters
* 24 million, the number of paddlers
* 16 million, the number of alpine and nordic skiers as well as snowshoers
* 56 million, the number of hikers
* 66 million, the number who like to watch wildlife
Put another way, more Americans like to paddle, be it in kayaks, canoes or rafts, than the number who play soccer. More Americans camp than play basketball. The number of Americans who like to head to the outdoors for recreation each year is greater than "the combined populations of Ireland, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Mongolia."
Additionally, more Americans "owe their jobs to snow-based recreation than there are physicians and surgeons," the study notes.
And, "Americans spent 88 times more on bicycle-based recreation in one year than the total box office draw for Titanic, the top grossing movie of all time."
I wonder if we can now expect the folks at the American Recreation Coalition to release their own economic study?