Step Outdoors And Grow The Economy

Among other designations, the month of June is recognized as National Great Outdoors Month.

That designation is worth some attention here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, especially at a time like now when we need to keep growing and strengthening every source of economic opportunity for local communities.

The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) gets right to the point, “Outdoor recreation is an economic force.” It’s a point well taken and one that governmental leaders, at all levels and in all places, should take to heart.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent shutdowns of local economies, when lives and opportunities across the board were ground to a halt, it was reported that America’s outdoor recreation industry was generating a $734 billion “gross domestic product output” while producing $887 billion in consumer spending and supporting nearly eight million jobs.

Outdoor recreation would turn out to be a ray of hope throughout the pandemic. In the face of the pandemic’s unprecedented challenges and upheaval, outdoor recreation remained strong, still accounting for nearly $700 billion in gross domestic output in 2020. According to reports, in 2021 outdoor recreation hit a record high with 164 million participants nationwide.

“Throughout this pandemic, outdoor recreation has been a cornerstone of American life,” the OIA stated. “As we look forward, it’s clear the outdoors will be an important part of America’s economic future.”

In other words, there is a lot of biking, hiking, hunting, camping, climbing, fishing, paddling, bird watching, and other outdoor recreation going on locally, statewide, and across the United States.

We’re told that more than one-half of American citizens annually take part in an outdoor recreation activity and that they annually make more than 10 billion outdoor outings.

As a former chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and a lifelong sportsman, I have been grateful for opportunities to support the ongoing resurgence of outdoor recreation. The Legislature annually takes actions on behalf of the outdoors, not solely for the economic and conservation benefits but also because these activities offer a high-quality means of exercise, healthier lifestyles, and family fun and recreation.

Surveys by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have shown striking facts about the nationwide economic impact — to the tune of $122 billion in revenue and millions of jobs — of the 87.5 million Americans who fish, hunt, or engage in other wildlife-related recreation. Hunting, fishing, and trapping are deeply rooted in New York’s (and our region’s) culture, experience, and tradition.

The same goes for our unmatched network of New York State parks, trails, and historic sites. The advocacy group Parks & Trails New York (PTNY) routinely highlights the economic impact of New York’s more than 200 state parks, dozens of historic sites, more than a thousand miles of hiking trails, and over 8,000 campsites (to say nothing of numerous boat launches, beaches, swimming pools, and nature centers). PTNY has estimated that the state parks and trails system supports approximately 54,000 jobs and generates upwards of $5 billion in park and visitor spending – which means each dollar of state investment is supporting a return of an estimated nine dollars in consumer spending.

As we continue working to turn around the Upstate New York economy through small business growth, a revitalization and strengthening of manufacturing, high tech research and development, an ongoing foundation of agriculture and tourism, and in many other ways, we will be smart to keep an eye on the outdoors.

New York’s unique outdoor experiences and pastimes – and our region is unmatched in this arena — are sure to entice increased spending on goods and services provided by local businesses. These expenditures support jobs, generate sales and income taxes, and spark tourism.

In this period of great uncertainty, one thing is clear: More New Yorkers than ever before are eager to get outside for a breath of fresh air and a better view – and it keeps adding up to a stronger bottom line.

Senator O’Mara represents New York’s 58th District which covers all of Chemung, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga and Yates counties, and a portion of Allegany County .

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