Take a hike, help the economy. No, really.

Did you know that your public lands adventures charge more than just your soul? They also charge up our state’s economy in a big way.

Washington state’s outdoor recreation economy is actually one of the most robust industries in the state. In Washington, spending related to recreation supports jobs and our local communities. The Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation report revealed the powerful effect that outdoor recreation has on Washington’s economy, as well as the non-monetary benefits from public lands.

How much money?

The report estimates that outdoor recreation in Washington supports $26.5 billion in annual spending. (This study was conducted in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the economy and state.)

Annually, $18.8 billion – yes, with a B – is spent on outdoor recreation, which includes food, gas, parking and camping passes, and any purchases that you make along the way. Another $7.7 billion is annually spent on recreation gear, equipment, and repair services.

All of the money that is spent during an adventure supports jobs – approximately 264,000 jobs in Washington state. In fact, 1 in 17 jobs of our jobs are tied to spending on recreation activities. This places outdoor recreation on par with Washington’s aerospace industry.

How much do we spend a day?

According to the report, in 2019, $5 billion was spent on hiking, $1.1 billion on horseback riding, $838 million on mountain biking, and $747 million was spent on off road vehicles. On an average day participant spent $8-$75 on mountain biking (this includes: gas, food, parking permits, equipment repair etc.).

Case Study: Ryan, the avid outdoor recreationalist

Ryan spends most of his free time outside. If he had to pick a favorite activity, he would choose mountain biking. Ryan often rides in the Ahtanum State Forest. For his average trip outdoors, he will spend money on bike tune-ups, snacks, and stops to get food at a local restaurant.

Before his trip, Ryan is supporting the local economy. He does this by buying his food at his neighborhood grocery store and tuning up his bike at the local bike shop.

When traveling, Ryan emphasized that he tries his best to spend his money at the smaller mom-and-pop shops, and he estimated that, “Around 90 percent of my outdoor recreation purchases support Washington’s economy.”

Ryan highlighted the importance of shopping locally to find niche pieces of gear that you wouldn’t normally find at your local Walmart or Target.

“Spend a little time and research to find those pieces at a local mom-and-pop shop in your area,” he says. “You’ll be surprised where you can find them.”

Ryan found his favorite hiking socks at a local farming store in Yakima. He considers that a real win-win because not only does he get great gear (without paying for shipping), he is able to support a local business.

What is the effect of my spending?

The direct spending and associated secondary effects, or multiplier effects, are estimated to be $40.3 billion annually. Within the outdoor industry, every $1 directly spent on outdoor recreation equates to $1.52 in supported economic activity.

Secondary effects include spending by businesses on things such as produce and meat, cleaning supplies, and utilities; and spending by employees on groceries, insurance, and rent. Secondary effects are a result of the initial expenditures that are spent on recreating outdoors.

Ryan spends most of his money locally contributes to more than just the local economy. Those actions have wide-reaching effects and are often considered to be secondary effects.

When Ryan buys a part at a local bike shop, that money goes into the pocket of the owner, who then pays their employee. That employee uses the money to purchase food for their family, food that might come from a local farm. Thus, the outdoor economy supports more than just gear and bike shops – it supports farmers, grocers, hotels, and more! 

Why does this matter?

Washington is known as an outdoor recreation destination. This study shows us that the money people spent on recreating outdoors benefits our local economy. It is important to continue to invest and improve on our public lands because they not only support us financially, but they also support us mentally.

Public lands can also benefit society just by being there, a recent University of Washington study found. Spending time outdoors can help reduce anxiety, improve mental health, and strengthen physical health. During these unprecedented times that we are currently living in, many people are choosing to go on more outdoor adventures to help relieve their anxiety and stress.

So when you recreate responsibly outdoors by hiking, camping, or biking, you are helping the economy recover and processing some of the stress we are all feeling. Now it should feel even better to get outdoors.

The Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation report report was written by Earth Economics. It was commissioned in a partnership by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Recreation Conservation Office.