States Wisely Develop Offices of Outdoor Recreation

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Outdoor recreation is a large economic driver in the United States, representing close to $500 billion annually.

By BRANDON BUTLER
bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com

It all comes down to money. At least, that’s how it normally seems when working with government. But that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it becomes apparent how valuable a resource is to those formally unaware when dollar figures are determined. Such is the case with outdoor recreation.

Arkansas is the latest state to create an office of Outdoor Recreation, growing the list to 17. Most of those are out west, where vast amounts of public lands are recognized as tourist attractions and strong economic drivers. The states that have created outdoor recreation offices, task forces, or advisory councils have done so to place a focus on expanding their state’s outdoor recreation economy.

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the Office of Outdoor Recreation (OREC) within the state’s Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (ADPHT). The focus of the new office will be on highlighting the state’s wide variety of outdoor activities, including boating, trail activities, and cycling. Which is big business in Arkansas. According to a press release from the governor’s office, outdoor recreation in the state is responsible for producing $2.9 billion in annual economic impact while supporting over 39,000 jobs. Fish the White River or canoe the Buffalo River on a Saturday in June, and you’ll swear that number has to be higher.

“The Office of Outdoor Recreation provides critically needed support as we look to expand our recreational opportunities in Arkansas and contribute to the state’s tourism value,” Hutchinson said, in the release. “These new outdoor recreation offerings illustrate the many opportunities at hand.”

One important aspect of the new Office’s responsibility is collecting and analyzing data. This information will be used to further understand how both residents and non-residents are interacting with the outdoors in Arkansas, which will allow the state to make wise investments accordingly. Once they have a better understanding of outdoor recreation is impacting the Arkansas economy, they’ll know where to spend tax for developing new recreational opportunities that generate the sort of returns the state hopes for.

“If there’s one thing the pandemic has made clear, it’s that people need the freedom of the outdoors for their health, quality of life and peace of mind, and it helps attract businesses and families to create thriving, livable communities,” Stacy Hurst, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism said. “I am looking forward to working with this team to enhance the state’s economy and offerings for the public.”

Outdoor recreation extends far beyond hunting and fishing, and it is a huge economic driver across the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, data shows that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.1% ($459.8 billion) of current-dollar gross domestic product (GDP) for the nation in 2019. That number must have skyrocketed in 2020 with the droves of people finding an escape from the pandemic in the outdoors.

Every state has some form of a Department of Natural Resources or a Department of Fish and Wildlife. Many of those agencies have a division related to outdoor tourism and recreation.

However, many of them simply aren’t doing enough, likely because they are limited by the resources provided to them. By creating a new office, like Arkansas has now done with their Office of Outdoor Recreation, a significant amount of interest will be given to understanding and expanding outdoor recreation.

I hope more Midwestern states will follow their lead.

See you down the trail…




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