Study: outdoor recreation generates billions in Washington

Mount Si, a popular hiking destination near Puget Sound.

Credit: brewbooks, flickr.

A new study shows that outdoor recreation in the state of Washington generates $21.6 billion a year in spending and supports nearly 200,000 jobs.

The study, compiled at the behest of the state legislature, confirms that Washington’s natural gems, from Mount Rainier National Park to San Juan Islands National Monument, yield a lot more than just recreation and relaxation: they are also a vital part of the economy.

“The numbers support what Washingtonians know: our public lands and waters provide world-class outdoor recreational opportunities that enhance quality of life and support local economies,” said Ben Greuel, Washington state director at The Wilderness Society. “These wild places, including recently protected Illabot Creek and the new additions to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, inspire people to get outside and benefit nearby communities.”

Read the full report [PDF]

Among the study’s findings:

  • Outdoor recreation in Washington results in about $21.6 billion per year in expenditures, including $12.5 billion in direct sales added to the local economy
  • Trip expenses on public lands specifically account for about $10.7 billion annually
  • This in turn creates $4.7 billion annually in household wages through job activity in outdoor recreation goods and services
  • Nearly 200,000 jobs in Washington are supported by outdoor recreation spending, including 122,600 jobs connected to outdoor recreation specifically on public lands

Visiting Gifford Pinchot National Forest's famous "Ape Cave." Credit: Dolan Halbrook., flickr.

The study also found that ”ecosystem services”—benefits derived from the environment itself, like water quality wildlife habitat or aesthetic beauty—that support outdoor recreation are valued at between $115 billion and $217 billion per year

In addition to boosting prosperity generally, data in the study suggest that the economies of some small communities get a big boost from out-of-county visitors. Skamania County, in southern Washington, has a population of just over 11,000, but sees nearly $200 million per year in total expenditures from outdoor recreation because it contains the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, among others. Overall, the study concludes that outdoor recreation is a valuable tool for the state to bridge the economic divide between rural and urban areas.

While Washington is blessed with an exceptional array of wild places, outdoor recreation is an important economic engine nationwide. A 2012 report from the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group, found that outdoor recreation contributes 6.1 million American jobs and $646 billion in annual direct consumer spending. Similarly, a July 2013 study found that visitors to public lands managed by the Department of the Interior—which includes the National Park Service and other agencies—supported more than 372,000 jobs and contributed $45 billion to the economy.

See how national parks help local economies

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