Outdoor recreation a big player in U.S. economy

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Lindsey Sessions and Brandon Larsen hike past Preston Park on the Siyeh Pass Trail at Glacier Park in this file photo. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake file)

A new report released by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that outdoor recreation accounted for a full 2 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2016, or worth about $373.7 billion.

That share is higher than what the bureau estimates several key domestic industries generate. Mining contributed 1.4 percent in 2016, agriculture accounted for 1 percent and legal services contributed 1.3 percent to the Gross Domestic Product.

The outdoor recreation economy also grew at a much faster clip than the overall economy. In 2016, the outdoor recreation economy grew 3.8 percent compared to the overall economy’s slower 2.8 percent.

This past year in the Flathead Valley, both Glacier National Park and Glacier Park International Airport experienced historically high numbers of visitors, despite one of the worst fire seasons in several years. The upward trends are expected to continue in the years ahead as the airport adds new routes and despite proposed fee increases to the national park.

To compile the data, researchers from the U.S. Department of Commerce measured gross output by tallying sales or receipts from entities associated with the outdoor economy. They then broke up that economic activity into three categories. The first was “conventional core activities” and included activities such as biking, boating, hiking and hunting. The second category, “other core activities,” included agritourism and outdoor festivals. The third category was named “supporting activities” and included travel, government spending and construction; it accounted for the largest slice of the economic activity pie, a full 41.2 percent of it.

Conventional core activities accounted for 36.7 percent and other core activities were pegged at 22.1 percent. The bureau also did not include travel expenses for people who traveled less than 50 miles to reach their recreation destination.

The report broke down data by type of recreational activity, which showed recreation that involves expensive machines adds a lot more to the economy than local day hikers. The biggest economic driver was recreation that involved motorized vehicles, which added nearly $60 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016. It was followed by boating and fishing, which added almost $40 billion.

The categories “Hunting/Shooting/Trapping,” “Equestrian” and “Other” all followed, with between $11 billion and $16 billion each.

The report noted the new information doesn’t change the overall estimate of the size of the United States Gross Domestic Product in 2016; it is just one of a variety of attempts the federal government is making to provide more detail about what precisely that large number entails.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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