Outdoor Recreation is Growing… and That’s Good for the Economy

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Outdoor Recreation Boosts U.S. National Economy

Brad Trumbo

Have you ever really penciled out the cost of an outdoor recreation road trip before motoring into the sunset on what you hope will be an epic escape from the daily grind that has become the “American dream?” Neither have I nor anyone else, as evidenced by the nearly $1.1 TRILLION U.S. gross domestic product output from outdoor recreation in 2022. That’s an astounding 2.2 percent of the national gross domestic product, greater than agriculture and mining contributions. 

According to a November 17th, 2023 press release from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), real gross output for the outdoor recreation economy increased 7.5 percent, while outdoor recreation compensation increased 9.1 percent. Employment increased 7.4 percent1 creating nearly 5 million jobs and comprising 3.2 percent of the U.S. workforce. 

“The state of the outdoor recreation economy is strong, and sustained investment in outdoor recreation and our shared public lands and waters pays dividends for our local and national economies and quality of life,” said Jessica Turner, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “We are thrilled to once again see the data reflect what we hear every day, that outdoor recreation is not a nice to have — but a necessity for healthy people, places, and economies.”

“Outdoor recreation” is an all-encompassing term, so you may be asking yourself, “What exactly does that mean?” Fortunately, the BEA broke it down for us in fine detail1.

Outdoor recreation activities fall into three general categories: (1) conventional activities such as bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting, (2) other activities such as gardening and outdoor concerts, and (3) supporting activities such as construction, travel and tourism, local trips, and government expenditures. In 2022, conventional outdoor recreation accounted for 34.2 percent of U.S. outdoor recreation value added. 

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Growth in supporting activities was led by travel and tourism, reflecting growth in spending on transportation, hotels, and restaurants1. Interestingly, more money is spent on supporting activities compared to conventional and “other” outdoor recreation. 

According to the BEA, RVing was the largest conventional activity for the nation at $35.5 billion in current‐dollar value added (6.3 percent overall) and was the largest conventional activity in 22 states. The states with the largest contributions were Indiana ($5.9 billion), Texas ($3.6 billion), and California ($3.4 billion).

Boating/fishing was the second‐largest conventional activity for the nation at $32.4 billion in current‐dollar value added (5.8 percent overall) and was the largest conventional activity in 24 states and the District of Columbia. The states with the largest contributions were Florida ($4.4 billion), California ($2.4 billion), and Texas ($2.1 billion). Hunting and shooting conventional activities comprise less than half of boating and fishing at $10.6 billion in current‐dollar value added (1.9 percent overall).

For the nation, the retail trade industry (vehicle trade and multi-use apparel and accessories) was the largest contributor to U.S. outdoor recreation current‐dollar value added in 2022, accounting for $153.6 billion, or 27.3 percent, and was the largest contributor to state economic value added in 28 U.S. States. 

Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services comprised the second‐largest industry group for the nation at $144.5 billion or 25.6 percent of value-added. 

Bottom line – outdoor recreation contributes significantly to the U.S. economy. If these figures say anything, it’s that Americans and our international guests cherish our natural resources, outdoor recreation opportunities, and the latest and greatest gear, and we are willing to travel far and wide for the experience. 

  1.  ORSA_Press_Release_November 2023
  2. Outdoor Recreation Roundtable

Brad Trumbo

Senior Staff Writer at Harvesting Nature Brad is an author and outdoor columnist who lives in southeast Washington State with his wife Ali and a pack of Llewellin setters on a small homestead. He serves the public as a fish and wildlife biologist and active Pheasants Forever life member. He pens conservation news for Harvesting Nature and authored the upland hunting book, Wingshooting the Palouse, which is available from Ingram Content Group and Amazon. You can find Brad on Instagram @tailfeathers_upland and @palouse_upland_media.

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