Recreation is big business

Recreation is big business

Sunlight Sports, an outdoor shop in Cody, had its best year in 2012. Wild Iris Mountain Sports in Lander is moving to a new, bigger location in March to meet growing demand.

So it wasn’t a surprise to outdoor retailers to read the numbers released in a study last week from the Outdoor Industry Association. The study said outdoor recreation provides 50,000 jobs in Wyoming and $300 million in state and local tax revenue. The industry provides $4.5 billion in consumer spending and $1.4 billion in wages and salaries.

Kelsey Dayton
Kelsey Dayton

The state-by-state numbers released were an expansion of a study released in June 2012 that reported nationally Americans spend $646 billion each year on outdoor recreation, supporting 6.1 million jobs and generating $80 billion in tax revenue.

The Outdoor Industry Association is a trade association for the outdoor industry. They commissioned research firm Southwick Associates to conduct the study, a release said.

Most people don’t realize the size of the outdoor industry, the release stated. Almost 140 million Americans participate in outdoor activities each year.

Outdoor recreation brings money to Wyoming in so many different ways, said Emily Tilden, assistant manager and hard goods buyer at Wild Iris. There is the actual gear and clothing purchased, but there is also travel and lodging.

“It’s kind of a pain to get here, but that’s why people come here,” she said. “You can have an isolated wilderness experience if that’s what you are looking for.”

Wild Iris’ sales grow 10 percent each year, and the store is moving in early March to a bigger location in Lander. Not only has the store grown, but so has the whole industry. That has led to bigger companies, like Patagonia and Columbia, providing additional support in the form of grants aimed at getting more people involved in outdoor activity. Wild Iris recently used a grant from Columbia to buy water bottles as incentive to get people involved in the Shoshone National Forest Plan.

To the people Tilden knows, recreation is acknowledged as an important economic factor in Fremont County and the state, but that doesn’t always translate over to elected officials and policy makers.

That’s why studies like the Outdoor Industry Association’s are so important, said Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight Sports in Cody.

A snowboarder hikes a mountain bowl near the Grand Tetons.
A snowboarder hikes a mountain bowl near the Grand Tetons. According to a recent national study on recreation, outdoor activity provides 50,000 jobs to Wyoming and $300 million in state and local tax revenue. (Rob Baird/Flickr — click to view)

“We have to remember as we are having conversations about how to develop our state, it’s critical we develop it in a way that retains for people the ability to go out and hike and hunt and wildlife watch, and not just because it makes us feel warm and fuzzy, but because it supports so many Wyomingite jobs,” he said.

People think of outdoor recreation in terms of gear shops and guide services, but it touches so many more industries, like restaurants and hotels, Allen said.

Business at Sunlight Sports has doubled in the last five years, and 2012 was its best year yet, said Allen, who has been with the store for 19 years.

“When the economy gets a little shaky, people stop going to Italy and start going camping,” he said.

Those who discover the outdoors during a recession often continue to recreate outside once the economy stabilizes; furthermore, the industry isn’t susceptible to boom and bust cycles since it isn’t tied to things like the stock market or natural gas prices, he said.

Allen said he hopes the legislature takes note of the numbers from the study and remembers how important it is to market Wyoming’s outdoors. “We have a really solid income supplier and we don’t need to farm or drill anything,” he said. “We just need to tell people about Wyoming and they will come.”

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at

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Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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  1. “everyone knows that all statistics have biases, but people with snow tires on their bikes or wheels on their skis have to believe.” Lousewort Twain

  2. Actually, Mark Twain would likely support these results, based on the extremely detailed report behind this study, which is available for review to anyone — The Outdoor Recreation Economy: Technical Report on Methods and Findings; August 31, 2012.

    In this comprehensive 148 page report, it states “The numbers [Totals are in Tables 14-15] are for economic contributions that are the result of only the direct expenditures made for outdoor recreation. These contributions do not include multiplier effects.”

    So take that one off the table. If anything, the methods described in the Technical Report seem conservative. Outdoor recreation is simply big business, and that is true in Wyoming as well.

    One aspect of the technical results did surprise me – The size of the nonmotorized portion was significantly larger than the motorized modes – nearly double in the western states — $164.4 billion for non-motorized compared to $91.2 billion for motorized modes. Yes, that is direct spending.

    As Mark Twain wrote in the Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

    And when we travel, as Twain did, we spend money, clearly a big business in Wyoming, which we can grow further with proper legislative support and investment.

  3. I am very skeptical of the broad strokes of this report on the economic churn of outdoor recreation. First , we have to consider the source and their self-interest . This is an industry reporting on itself , not a neutral third party. This organization is highly motivated to issue generous dollar data about its compatriot commerce. I would ask to see the data sources and the methodology used to parse it…because I have a VERY hard time accepting that one out of every 11 living persons in Wyoming is ” directly employed” in outdoor recreation. Methinks a few dude horses and some show-Cattle were factored in , or perhaps the Yellowstone wolves of the Lamar Vally viewed by the wolf watchers were counted as ” directly employed “. But $ 4.5 billion in spending and $ 1.5 billion in wages ? That is really stretching it for Wyoming. I suspect the OIA or their analysts are examining Wyoming thru a Colorado prism with rosy designer sunglasses. The two states are the same shape and size and joined along one border, but there the similarity ends. Colorado has 11 times Wyoming’s population and a metro-exurban demographic with a very diverse economic base in all sectors with great transportation and infrastructure. It has no problem supporting a giant outdoor industry not beholden to ranching and hunting interests and having to deal with a Second World corporate colony mindset beholden to extractive industries. Colorado passed thru that mining phase a hundred years before Wyoming and has moved on to the real world. Wyoming’s outdoor rec is a secondary result of being primarily a life sentence of blue collar right to work diesel-powered labor . In Wyoming, the outdoorsman wears Carhartts, not Patagonia attire.

    So show us the data and the methodology . What I hear when I read this article is the usual Chamber of Commerce math that applies dollar multipliers and job coefficients to conflate towards a desired statistical product. My local Chamber used to trumpet a number on its horn that said each dollar brought into the local economy circulated 7 times. I think that dynamic is more like 1.5 X before that dollar is transmitted out electronically to , Wall Street , or Bentonville Arkansas, or hand carried to the malls in Billings MT. And the jobs ? — every hunting and fishing guide I know has at least one and usually two other jobs during the year. His summer trout guiding work or fall elk hunt or winter snowmobile trek should therefore be pinned as 0.33 job per campaign , not one or more standalone rec industry jobs placed in a yearround tally. Fifty thousand rec industry jobs are also 40,000 workers overlaid on some other job sector, but I’ll bet the analysts didn’t see it that way.

    As that famous outdoor writer and analyst Mark Twain put it, there are ” Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics “. When considering a financial report on Wyoming’s outdoor industry written by the outdoor industry , consider the source.