Outdoor Recreation Impacts on Community and Economy during COVID-19


One year into the pandemic and many of us have taken to nature for solace, fitness, and safer socialization. Overall, there were 2.2% more people actively enjoying the outdoors in 2020, meaning that millions of Americans who previously did not seek outdoor recreation experiences were newly discovering (or rediscovering) these interests. Some of these increases in participation have led to increases in economic activity. However, we are not in a “typical” economy and the correlations between participation and economic activity are not linear. Increased participation can lead to new management and financial strains, reflecting concerns with parking, overcrowding at popular sites, and improper waste disposal.

According to Google search trend data, interest in “New Hampshire hiking trails” grew 57% over the past four years’ average. Participation in hunting and fishing also increased, with 40% more in-state fishing licenses sold through June 2020 compared to the previous year, and deer hunting claiming the fourth highest harvest recorded since 1922. Motorized recreation also increased during the pandemic, and auto touring was a popular way for many residents to get out of the house and enjoy the state’s scenery. One community in Grafton County recently shared that summer visitation to their beaches and trails was off the charts, which likely supported many of their downtown businesses but also led to conflicts about who gets to use town-owned resources when crowding and trash became issues. This ultimately led to several trail closures and town beaches being restricted to residents only.

Outdoor Recreation as a Sector of the National Economy

The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently added Outdoor Recreation as separate account of their national economy tracking. In 2019, the Outdoor Recreation Economy accounted for 2.1% ($459.8 billion) of current GDP. In this account, outdoor recreation activities are categorized into conventional activities (e.g., bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting); other core activities (e.g., gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (e.g., travel and tourism, local trips and government expenditures).

In New Hampshire, outdoor recreation accounts for 3.2% of the total economy. Recognizing the importance of the growing outdoor recreation economy, New Hampshire has hired its first state director of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development. And while we have seen increases in participation in outdoor recreation during the pandemic, participation hasn’t necessarily led to substantial economic gain. Some industries have seen growth while others are struggling due to pandemic related supply chain delays, decreased retail foot traffic, and challenges with workforce and hiring.

What can communities do?

Assess local assets: NH communities offer a wide variety of outdoor opportunities, some which may be better recognized than others. An assessment can help communities determine the availability and condition of assets and whether they are connected to other community and economic infrastructure.

Support local outdoor recreation businesses, initiatives, clubs and organizations: Increasing engagement with local retailers and outfitters, land trusts, and recreation and conservation boards can help enhance nearby recreational opportunities and ensure greater participant knowledge and safety. Buying gear locally not only generates more local economic growth, it also usually comes with great service and expertise.

Connect with Granite Outdoor Alliance:  Statewide, businesses and organizations (including UNH Extension) have banded together to strengthen NH’s standing as a hub for outdoor activity. Granite Outdoor invites interested groups and individuals to join these efforts through networking, advocacy, and education.

Finally, feel free to reach out if your community needs support with its Outdoor Recreation Economy goals. And stay tuned for an upcoming infobrief where we dive into this topic in more depth.

Resources:

https://www.bea.gov/data/special-topics/outdoor-recreation

https://outdoorindustry.org/press-release/forthcoming-reports-outdoor-foundation-outdoor-industry-association-provide-unprecedented-insight-trends-outdoor-participation/ 

Author(s)

Shannon Rogers
Associate Extension Professor
Affiliated Faculty
Adjunct Assistant Professor
ASSOCIATE STATE SPECIALIST
Phone: (603) 862-5171
Office: Cooperative Extension, Nesmith Hall, Durham, NH 03824

Jada Lindblom
Community & Economic Development Field Specialist
Assoc Field Specialist
Phone: 603-527-5475
Office: UNH Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824