Record surge for outdoor recreation economy in 2021 fuels push for legislation, federal office

Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry contributed $11.6 billion in 2021, accounting for 2.7% of the state’s overall economy

Jason Blevins
Colorado Sun
Nathan Eldridge catches some air while riding his mountain bike at the Bear River BMX track this week. The park was one of many in Steamboat Springs that reopened to the public as pandemic restrictions continue to ease.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Outdoor recreation delivered $454 billion to the U.S. economy in 2021, accounting for 1.9% of the nation’s economic activity and marking a huge rebound from the pandemic.

The fifth annual report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis released Wednesday shows outdoor recreation regaining lost ground from the pandemic impacts to travel and tourism in 2020. The record surge in 2021 — when adding outdoor recreation job earnings the industry delivered an $862 billion overall impact to the U.S.economy — is pushing industry advocates to call for more federal support of recreation. 

“Outdoor recreation is one of the few areas where we are seeing bipartisan support,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, the president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. (Boating was red hot in 2021, with boat buyers and manufacturers contributing $50.4 billion to the outdoor recreation economy, making it the industry’s largest sector.) “This is one of the few industry sectors that has the ability to reach across the partisan divide and bring people together to improve our economies and our quality of life.”

The federal government first started measuring the outdoor recreation economy in 2017, following the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act. The annual reports from the Department of Commerce show outdoor recreation users, manufacturers, service providers, retailers and supporting industries like travel and tourism driving an economy larger than the agriculture, energy, pharmaceuticals or electronics industries. 


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