Outdoor rec a money driver for state, county —

Outdoor rec a money driver for state, county

By Kimberly Cauvel
Skagit Valley Herald

It’s no secret that outdoor recreation is a big deal in the state. But for the first time, a study of the fiscal impact is showing just how big — nearly $22 billion spent in Washington each year while supporting 200,000 jobs.

Washington’s terrain boasts mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and marine shorelines, creating recreation opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, boating and more. The state-requested report released Thursday shows the impact at both state and local levels.

“Economic activity associated with outdoor recreation is impacting, in a significant way, rural areas,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “With this report, we now have the data to be able to demonstrate very clearly how important outdoor recreation is and why preserving our natural areas is so critical.”

Ranker led the Legislature in directing the state Recreation and Conservation Office to commission the Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State report, which was prepared by Earth Economics. The Tacoma-based nonprofit does research in ecosystem service economics and planning.

According to the study, an estimated $479.9 million is spent on recreation gear, activities and related expenses in Skagit County alone. The outdoor industry employs 3,805 people locally, and generates $38.3 million in tax revenue.

Public waters are the biggest draw in Skagit, with 66 percent of the money spent here going toward water-related activities. The trend is the same for the state as a whole; water recreation comes in first, followed by special events and tournaments.

Statewide, residents recreate an average of 56 days each year, spending a collective $21.6 billion annually and supporting 200,000 jobs in the recreation industry, according to the study.

“We’re very excited to share this report,” Recreation and Conservation Office Director Kaleen Cottingham said in a news release. “I think it confirms what many of us know — that recreation is a big part of what makes Washington a great place to live.”

“Outdoor recreation creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, supports many local businesses and is important to all of us for staying healthy, educating our children and giving us a beautiful place to live,” she said. “This report puts hard numbers behind the benefits of outdoor recreation and shows that investments in outdoor recreation will bring a substantial return on the dollar.”

The direct economic values are clear in the newly released document. But it also highlights indirect benefits gleaned from 19 million acres of conserved lands.

“Outdoor recreation is really an economic gem. It’s an economic gem hiding in plain sight, and that’s what this report revealed,” REI Director of Government and Community Affairs Marc Berejka said.

In addition to supporting job creation, product development and the sales of services and goods, recreation also provides community and environmental health benefits.

Earth Economics calls those “ecosystem services” and estimates they account for an additional $19.6 billion to $31.2 billion. Among those are things like water quality, habitat availability and aesthetic beauty.

Given the significance of outdoor recreation to state residents and out-of-state visitors, Ranker and others hope to see the study used to direct policy changes to provide more support for the industry.

“I think this is going to be a report that we can continue to use and then look for next steps,” he said. “How do we use this report to make sure we really increase and grow outdoor recreation in Washington state? Because, unfortunately, Washington and Connecticut are the only states in the nation that don’t actively invest in promoting outdoor recreation.”

Read the complete story at Skagit Valley Herald
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