Out of doors recreation grows into $10B business in Michigan


LANSING, MI – Skiing, Boating, Biking. Michigan is home to a number of outdoor sports.

But it’s more than just fun and games.

Outdoor recreation grew in Michigan last year into a booming $10.8 billion industry employing nearly 10,000 people.

“The outdoor recreation economy is a powerful unifying force for better health, decent jobs and private sector investment across the country,” said Brad Garmon, executive director of the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in a statement.

Michigan’s outdoor economy grew more than 15% from 2020 to 2021, according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The impact is greater now than it has been at any time in the 10 years since federal officials began measuring it.

Data shows that outdoor recreation in Michigan grew steadily from 2012 to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, the latest report shows that it has rebounded, surpassing 2019 levels by about $27 million.

Related: Ski resorts across Michigan announce opening dates

This impact hit Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park.

“With the pandemic, we’ve really seen a boom in visitors just because everything else has shut down,” said outdoor adventure specialist Dan Bonner.

One of only four public luge tracks in the United States, the park at Muskegon State Park also offers ice skating, cross-country skiing, and sledding. And it’s recently added summer sports to its offerings with a quarter-mile zip line, archery range and hiking trails.

Bonner said summer visitors come from areas throughout the Midwest such as Chicago, Ohio and Kentucky. But everyday winter visitors tend to be based in Muskegon or Grand Rapids.

“We continue to see growth in sales and attendance just because of the success we’ve had over the past year,” said Bonner.

Related: A quarter-mile zipline heralds a ‘transformational moment’ for the Muskegon complex, known for its luge

In 2021, outdoor recreation pumped $454 billion into the national economy, with states like California, Texas and Florida leading the pack. Nationally, the economic impact increased by almost 25% in one year.

Michigan ranked 13th, with boating and fishing contributing nearly $1 billion to the total outdoor economy. RVs brought in $719 million, other activities like outdoor concerts or gardening made up $2 billion, and so-called “supportive activities” — or construction, tourism, or government money — accounted for 35% of the industry.

“The state of Michigan is blessed with outstanding natural resources, along with critical design, engineering and advanced manufacturing capabilities that make it a great choice for innovative outdoor recreation companies,” said Quentin Messer, CEO of Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

A few factors fueled Michigan’s success.

Heads of state point to the Pure Michigan travel campaign, which has become an economic engine since its launch in 2006. Though advertising went silent three years ago, the iconic marketing effort raised $40 million this fall to boost the tourism economy.

Related: Pure Michigan went dark three years ago. It’s back with $40 million to spend.

Michigan-headquartered brands like Carhartt, Merrell footwear, and Stormy Kromer winter hats have helped strengthen Michigan’s involvement in outdoor recreation.

Michigan also invested $250 million in federal pandemic aid into the state parks system earlier this year. And the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office was recently moved to the State Economic Development Office to encourage the industry.

In addition, the natural beauty of the state also matters.

“Michigan is a gem,” said Bonner. “The people who know it love it. And people who are new to Michigan are always amazed at how beautiful our state is.”

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