Outdoor recreation paying big dividends in Kitsap
Outdoor recreation in Kitsap County is generating nearly $700 million a year, ranking it as one of the most lucrative outdoor destinations in the state, according to a new study commissioned by the state Legislature.
The study, which found that about $21.6 billion is generated from outdoor recreation trips and equipment each year in Washington, is considered the first comprehensive analysis of the state’s recreation economy.
“For our state, (outdoor recreation) is a way of life,” said Wendy Brown, policy director for the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. “This (study) really substantiates that it’s a true driving force for our state’s economy.”
The Recreation and Conservation Office hired Earth Economics, a Tacoma-based research firm, to conduct the study. Earth Economics looked at participation and spending data related to 42 activities that make use of the state’s 23 million acres of public and private recreational lands and its marine waterways, lakes and rivers.
The $694 million generated in Kitsap puts the county in ninth place out of the state’s 39 counties. Kitsap was just below Whatcom County ($705 million) and just above 10th-place Yakima County ($670 million). King County’s annual outdoor recreation spending put it at the top, with $5.4 billion generated each year.
Outdoor recreation supports more than 6,400 jobs in Kitsap and generates about $37.5 million in annual state and local tax revenue, according to the study.
The data is proof that Kitsap’s growing commitment to parks and environmental protections are “paying dividends,” said Patty Graf-Hoke, Visit Kitsap Peninsula’s executive director.
“It shows that preserving open space and restoring and protecting our waterways is a sound strategy,” she said. “What’s good for the environment is good for the economy, and that’s clearly demonstrated in the study.”
It’s noteworthy, she said, that Kitsap is generating robust spending despite the fact that the county is the only one in the state without federal recreation lands. The study noted that all other counties were drawing a substantial benefit from acreage managed as a national park, national forest or national wildlife refuge. Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest generate $118 million in Jefferson County and $65 million in Clallam County per year.
“Even though we don’t have the benefit of the marketing that comes with having a national park, we demonstrate that the outdoor recreation industry is extremely important to the Kitsap region’s economy,” Graf-Hoke said.
The study estimates that outdoor recreation supports nearly 200,000 jobs in Washington. That’s comparable to some of the state’s largest industries, according to the study.
“Aerospace always gets the spotlight, and information technology gets the spotlight,” said Marc Berejka, REI’s director of government affairs. “But what this report does is (show) that outdoor recreation is also an economic engine for our state.”
As an example, Barejka cited Sage, a flyfishing rod manufacturer on Bainbridge Island. With about 170 employees, it’s among the island’s largest employers.
The study estimates that Washingtonians spend about 56 days a year recreating outdoors. The five activities with the greatest participation were, in ranked order, walking, running and jogging, wildlife viewing and photography, bicycling and playground use.
Activities generating more than $1 billion per year in spending include motorized boating ($3.8 billion), bicycling ($3.1 billion), hiking ($2.1 billion), hunting and shooting ($1.9 billion) and snow sports ($1.7 billion).
About 42 percent of all outdoor recreation spending went toward gear and equipment. The remainder was divided among food (19 percent), gas (13 percent), and lodging (7 percent).
Graf-Hoke said Kitsap is well-positioned to generate more outdoor recreation spending.
“Seattle’s growing more and more, and I think we’re definitely going to be the backyard or playground for Seattle,” she said.