Last June I had the pleasure of staffing the WY Outdoor Recreation Office booth at Trailfest in Kendrick Park. Nestled between the Bighorn National Forest and the Trout Unlimited tents, local Pathfinder Bruce Scigliano and I spent the day hanging out with residents of Sheridan County, visitors from across the country who had come to take part in Dead Swede Weekend, and a shocking number of people who did speak had moved to Sheridan County in the previous 12 months.
As we set up our tent, table, demonstrations, information, and loot, Bruce posed a philosophical question: “How do you define outdoor recreation?” Since I’m generally a fast talker and slow thinker, I replied, “Well, that’s easy After all, I’ve spent seven years in the outdoor recreation retail industry and another five years programming and teaching outdoor recreation/education/leadership courses. I’m also an outdoor columnist for a well-known and widely read publication; Of course, I know how to define outdoor recreation.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that maybe pinning it down wasn’t that easy. As residents of Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region, we all have a pretty solid understanding of what outdoor activities are: hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, skiing, snowmobiling, etc. And of course, any recreation that takes place indoors is like that off the table.
But then there’s this huge gray area. Over the last ten years I have spent countless hours watching youth baseball, soccer and football. Are these outdoor recreation? How about golfing, strolling the city’s pathways, swimming in the Kendrick Pool, gardening or playing tennis indoors or outdoors? The day before Trailfest, I attended NutBall, the Center for a Vital Community’s (CVC) annual outdoor fundraiser. Would this loosely regulated, 14-hole, competitive, team-based, absurd activity count?
Mid-June came and I found myself at CampFIRE, the CVC’s annual leadership camp, and the question popped into my head again. Mountain biking, of course a yes. But Gagaball? I’m not sure. canoeing? Certainly. balloon day? One could argue either way. rock climbing? No question. Amateur outdoor theater? I’ll say no, but could possibly be persuaded.
I did some Google research and found that, as simple as it may seem on the surface, there are no two official agencies that define outdoor recreation in the same way or through the same activities. In fact, most organizations don’t bother to define it at all. Why should they? We all know what it is, right?
Whatever outdoor recreation is or isn’t, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis offers some impressive statistics on the industry’s impact on our state of Cowboy’s economy. According to their 2021 Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) report, outdoor recreation represented $1.5 billion, or 3.6%, of the state’s GDP (up from $1.2 billion, or 3.4%, in 2020 ).
Employment in this sector also saw an increase from 14,187 to 15,285 jobs, accounting for 5.4% of the state’s total employment. Since 2020, outdoor recreation employment in Wyoming has increased by 18.4% compared to a 13.1% increase in the United States.
Snow activities in Wyoming saw an increase in value added of $108,258, which ranked us 12th in terms of value added. And RV, motorcycle and ATV rides, rock climbing, equestrian, bicycling, and recreational flying also saw steady increases across the board, contributing overall to $166,423 in value added, or an 11% increase over 2020. If you really want to dig into the numbers yourself, visit bea.gov, type “orsa” in the search bar, and dive in.
Regardless of how you define it, it’s important to recognize and appreciate that outdoor recreation accounts for almost 4% of our state’s GDP and employs over 5% of our population. Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites & Trails, the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office, and local and statewide outdoor-related businesses and non-profit organizations deserve our recognition for their efforts.
If you’re looking for a fun, non-political, yet lively discussion for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner, see what your friends and family have to say about the definition of outdoor recreation. I would like to hear your results. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy and adventurous 2023!
Julia Greer is a member of the Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources Commission.