Kentucky should keep an eye on growth of outdoor recreation

Published 7:26 pm Friday, September 27, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

2017 was a great year for the outdoor recreation economy in the U.S. The outdoor recreation sector grew by 3.9% that year, according to a new report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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That’s more growth than was seen in the entire U.S. economy, which grew by about 2.4% in 2017. But Kentucky may have cause for concern.

The outdoor recreation sector grew by 2.1% in the Bluegrass State — it grew slower than the overall economy. That means Kentucky’s share of the outdoor recreation market is declining.

Given how important tourism is for the state, and how our natural areas and outdoor spaces are an essential tourism driver, it would be nice to see our the outdoor recreation economy growing at least as fast as everything else.

Nationwide, “boating/fishing” was the largest “conventional” outdoor activity in terms of economy — it “added” almost $21 billion to the U.S. economy. RVing was nexting at $16.9 billion. Motorcycling/ATVing added $9.1 billion; hunting/shooting/trapping added $8.8 billion; equestrian activities added $7.8 billion. These are all activities people can do in Kentucky, but at least in 2017, they apparently chose to do them more often in other states.

Fortunately, we’re not talking about an actual decline in outdoor recreation — that would be far more concerning. But hopefully these numbers show there’s room to improve.

Other highlights from the BEA report include:

• The outdoor recreation economy accounted for $427.2 billion or 2.2% of the entire U.S. gross domestic product — “more than mining, utilities, farming, ranching and chemical products manufacturing,” according to the Rural Blog.

• Conventional outdoor recreation represented a little more than 30% of the outdoor recreation total; “other recreation” represented less than 20%; and the remaining 50% came from “supporting activities,” including construction, government investment, shopping, restaurants and lodging.

• The industry with the biggest share of the outdoor recreation economy was “arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services,” with $112.9 billion; the second-biggest industry was retail trade with $95.7 billion.