How Important is Recreation to our Economy? $26 Billion Worth

By Brittany Gallagher, External Affairs Manager

We know Washington’s iconic landscapes and unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities are priceless. It’s impossible to put a dollar value on the view from a peak in the Cascades, the peace found fishing in an Eastern Washington stream, the thrill of driving an ATV on the dunes at Moses Lake or the delight of children discovering tidepools.

But it doesn’t hurt to know what these natural assets can mean for the economy of our state. A recent Outdoor Industry Association report on the outdoor recreation economies in all 50 states reveals that the pursuit of open-air adventure is a powerhouse for Washington’s prosperous economy — and it’s growing.

All Internal Rights. Enjoying the trails between the Roslyn Urban Forest and the Teanaway Community Forest near the city of Roslyn, Washington. Photo by John Marshall.        

From our coastline to our mountains, forests, and shrub steppe, Washington’s abundant natural beauty and public recreation opportunities make for huge economic returns statewide. Outdoor recreation supports more than 200,000 jobs in Washington, providing $7.6 billion in wages and salaries. 

Washingtonians and visitors to our state who come here to enjoy our unparalleled hiking, riding, boating and camping opportunities spend more than $26 billion annually on these activities, generating more than $2 billion in state and local tax revenues. This economic activity is a lifeline for many rural communities across our state.

Of course, outdoor recreation relies on healthy lands, air and water, which is one of the reasons why the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is so important to Washington. We have been advocating with many partners nationwide for permanent reauthorization of LWCF and are thankful that many of our members of Congress have been championing LWCF legislation in the U.S. House and the Senate.

The report also notes that 72 percent of Washington residents participate in outdoor recreation activities each year. Only Montanans, Alaskans (each at 81 percent), Idahoans (79 percent), North Dakotans (76 percent) and Wyomingites (yes, 73 percent of Wyomingites) get outside at a higher rate than we do.”

Why isn’t our number even higher? For some, we think it may have to do with access to transportation — which is why we’ve gathered a list of urban outdoor adventures that can be enjoyed without a car.

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Of course, we in the Pacific Northwest don’t get to have all the outdoor fun. Nationwide, outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in consumer spending and supports 7.6 million American jobs.

Feeling inspired to get out from behind your web browser and into the outdoors?

Seattle skyline from West Seattle, where Alki Beach offers recreation for all. Photo by Jeff Marsh.