Report: Colorado's outdoor recreation industry continues economic growth

Posted at 5:06 PM, Jan 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-02 19:06:41-05

DENVER – Outdoor recreation contributed $62 billion to Colorado’s economic output in 2017 – nearly double what it did in 2012 – and was responsible for nearly 20 percent of the state’s labor force that year, according to a new state report released in full on Wednesday.

But recreation, conservation and wildlife officials say they have the same concerns many Coloradans have – that overcrowding could create even more headaches in the years ahead.

The 2019 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) details both the effects of the outdoor industry on Colorado’s economy and Coloradans’ wellbeing, and identifies priorities the state, its residents and conservationists plan to take to improve conservation and recreation in the state.

The plan comes from the combined work of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and partners across the state. This year’s report details the top priorities for the state over the next four years as being enhancing access to outdoor opportunities, promoting stewardship of Colorado’s resources, the conservation of land, water and wildlife, and the shoring-up of future funding for the state’s outdoors.

The report notes that the state’s population is expected to grow by about 100,000 people each year for the next two decades, which the report says will result in even more crowding and pressure to preserve resources and the environment.

The report notes that Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry employed about 511,000 people in 2017 and was responsible for about one-tenth ($35 billion) of the state’s Gross Domestic Product. The industry brought in $9.4 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue, the report says.

The industry keeps growing, the report says, and the majority of the jobs are coming outside of the metro Denver area – places that have struggled to see the same job growth as many places along Colorado’s Front Range.

“Outdoor recreation is not only a robust sector, but a growing one,” the report states. “Since 2014, total economic output and tax revenue from outdoor recreation in Colorado nearly doubled and jobs increased by almost 200,000. Outdoor recreation is engrained in Colorado’s culture, landscape and quality of life, as well as its economic stability.”

The report says that jobs in the outdoor recreation sector grew by 63 percent over the past five years and wages and salaries in the sector increased by 75 percent over the same period.

That is thanks, in part, to the large numbers of Coloradans utilizing the outdoors for recreation. The report says that 92 percent of residents use the outdoors at least once “every few weeks” and that 64 percent use parks, open spaces or trails once or more a week.

Walking is the most-popular outdoor activity for Coloradans (74 percent), followed by hiking (52 percent), picnicking (32 percent), camping (32 percent) and fishing (29 percent).

But the report says both users of the outdoors and land managers were concerned about overcrowding, traffic congestion and crowding. Land managers said that they expect challenges in figuring out how to pay for changes they hope to address overcrowding in coming years.

The report is done every five years so it can stay eligible for Land and Water Conservation Fund money and other possible grants and appropriations.

“Given the significance of outdoor recreation in the state, this plan is much more than a federal requirement for funding,” the report states.

“Leaders from conservation, recreation, agriculture and all levels of government collaborated to identify the five-year priorities presented in the SCORP,” Ann Baker Easley, the executive director of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) and CO-OP member, said in a statement. “I believe this plan sets a strong agenda to ensure that Colorado’s outdoor resources are here for future generations to enjoy. Now, we must work together to put this plan into action.”

“More and more people are coming to Colorado each year, and environmental stressors, including drought, fire, and floods, further require us to plan and be thoughtful about how we grow in order to accommodate more recreational users and maintain a robust tourism sector,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement regarding his certification of the plan. “This is a plan for all Coloradans. Now, it is up to all of us – local, state, and federal governments, conservation and recreation professionals, volunteers, and recreationalists – to act upon the information and strategies provided in the plan.”