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The outdoor recreation industry accounted for 2.2% of the nation’s GDP at $563.7 billion in 2022 and made up 2.8% of Colorado’s GDP at nearly $14 billion.

The latest federal numbers on the industry also show that Colorado’s outdoor economy grew by 19.9% last year, the sixth largest increase nationwide.

For the first time since the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released data on outdoor recreation, the industry’s sales crossed the $1 trillion mark.

“This is a historic day for the outdoor economy,” Chris Perkins, vice president of programs at the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, said in a Nov. 17 news conference.

Perkins said ORR, a national coalition that represents more than 110,000 outdoor businesses, had a sense from members’ reports and anecdotes that 2022 was a good year. The federal numbers released last week confirm that, he said.

The recreation covered by the economic review includes bicycling, boating, hiking, fishing, hunting and snow sports. Other outdoor activities focus on motorcycles, all-terrain and recreational vehicles.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Commerce Department issued its first-ever report about the outdoor recreation industry in 2018. Former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner was a sponsor of the legislation that directed the Commerce Department to issue the report, which goes out annually.

Jessica Turner, president of ORR, said the economic numbers help buttress the industry’s efforts to gain congressional support for money and new policies aimed at growing the outdoor recreation economy.

“I think we’ve always known that this industry is special. It connects people with nature. It makes them healthy and happy. It connects people with family and friends,” Turner said. “But having the actual economic data that takes our industry from a nice-to-have on the weekends to a need-to-have for community jobs has been transformational.”

The new federal analysis found that outdoor recreation supported almost 5 million jobs nationwide, or 3.2%, of U.S employees, in 2022. The numbers in Colorado were 129,773 employees for 4.3% of the state workforce and roughly $6.9 billion in wages.

“We are grateful to the BEA for gathering this data showing clearly that the outdoor industry is a critical economic driver and source of jobs for both Colorado and the country,” Conor Hall, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said in a statement.

Hall said the state continues to promote stewardship, more equitable access to the outdoors, a healthy workforce and “sustainable growth of the industry.”

Many outdoor businesses were hurt when the coronavirus pandemic first hit because ski resorts, campgrounds and other venues were closed or restricted. Manufacturing of equipment, boats and other goods were affected.

But outdoor recreation boomed in Colorado and across the country during the height of the pandemic when COVID-19 restrictions limited other activities. In the summer of 2020, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable pitched outdoor recreation as a way to help rejuvenate the economy.

And recreation organizations and advocates continue to champion outdoor recreation as a means of diversifying local economies, especially in rural areas. The bipartisan America’s Outdoor Recreation Act has passed the U.S. Senate and is scheduled to be heard Nov. 30 by the House Natural Resources Committee.

The legislation would, among several things, invest in modernizing campgrounds; increase access to public lands for recreation; and provide technical and financial  help to rural communities near recreation areas.

Turner with the recreation roundtable said the act includes proposals for reservation and data systems to better manage recreation sites.

“We need better policies and better management tools to ensure that the overused, highly visited places are getting the management they need to control that and help with resources and that the underused, amazing landscapes that people don’t know about are getting visitation,” Turner with the recreation roundtable said.

 

Updated at 10 a.m. Nov. 23 to correct amount of wages of the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado in  2022.

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