The economic impacts of outdoor recreation are bigger than you might think. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in the United States generates 6.1 million jobs and $646 billion in consumer spending every year. In Minnesota, that translates into 118,000 jobs, $11.6 billion in consumer spending, and $815 million in state and local tax revenue. The only industries that pack a bigger punch are financial services and insurance, and outpatient health care.
How are Americans spending their time outdoors? According to the Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report (2015), running, biking, fishing, camping and hiking continue to be the most popular activities for both youth and adults. In Minnesota, at least 69% of us participate in outdoor recreation activities each year. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that we have the most fishing licenses per capita (the highest rate in the nation) and the most boats as well (one boat for every six people). Though the Mall of America continues to be the biggest tourist attraction in Minnesota, state parks entice many visitors as well. Not surprisingly in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” water is the focal point of the top five most visited state parks: Fort Snelling (at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers); Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse (on Lake Superior’s North Shore); Itasca (at the headwaters of the Mississippi River); and Interstate (on the St. Croix River).
Closer to home, the National Park Service produces an annual report detailing the economic benefits of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. According to the 2014 report, the riverway saw 671,582 visitors who spent $27,645,600 in communities near the park. Visitors spend money on lodging, food and beverages, gas and oil, admissions and fees, and souvenirs; together, these services support 439 jobs.
Though the statistics from outdoor recreation are impressive, it should be noted that lakes and rivers also provide an economic boost to surrounding communities beyond what is spent on fishing, boating and visiting parks. It goes without saying that property values are higher near the water. In addition, water resources contribute significantly to the scenic qualities of communities like Stillwater, Forest Lake and Hastings. In 2011, Stillwater was named one of the 10 Prettiest Towns in America by Forbes. This year, City Pages named Stillwater the best place to take out of town guests.
To preserve the economic prosperity of our local communities we must keep our lakes and rivers clean and healthy for fishing, swimming, boating and other forms of recreation. In addition, we should be planning for the future and thinking about what qualities will attract and keep younger generations living in our communities. The Millennial generation, born roughly from 1980-2005, is the largest generation in history – 80 million people. Where do they want to live? In surveys, millennials report that they want walkable neighborhoods with recreation and trails nearby. In fact, access to outdoor activities is the amenity they seek most when deciding where to live.
So what’s the bottom line? Clean lakes and rivers aren’t just good for the fish and otters, they’re good for our piggy banks as well. Also, it pays to invest in parks and trails. If you build them, they will come.