Outside recreation boosts Minnesota’s economic system

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After boats are winterized and stored for the next few months, many boaters spend the off-season preparing for the next summer by planning trips and purchasing new boating supplies. As we look ahead to the year ahead, it’s worth looking back and reflecting on how important the leisure economy is to Minnesota.

Whether on the water, on the shore, or deep in the woods, outdoor recreation is bigger than a weekend fishing trip or a sunset cruise. The outdoor recreation industry accounts for a significant portion of the state and national economy, channeling money into additional industries such as retail, hospitality, tourism, and even real estate.

Minnesota has the second highest number of registered boats in the country. Communities surrounding popular lakes like Lake Superior, Lake Minnetonka, and Big Sand Lake may feel the effects first, but the entire state benefits from waterfront recreation. Recently released data helps tell this story.

Recently, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis released its annual report on the state of our outdoor recreation economy. According to the report, the outdoor leisure economy had a record year in 2021, with an economic output of US$862 billion, equivalent to 1.9 percent of US gross domestic product (GDP). Boating and fishing continue to be the largest contributors to the nearly trillion-dollar outdoor recreation economy and are the largest outdoor recreation activity in 27 states, including the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

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As one of the state’s largest marine retailers, I am encouraged that boating companies like mine make an important contribution and are the number one contributor to the outdoor recreation economy. Growing up, I spent summers boating on the Mississippi and Lake Pepin. Now it is my joy and privilege to help others get on the water – while ensuring that our waterways preserve their natural ecosystems and beauty, and that the recreation we support is enjoyable for all involved.

Traders like me are grateful for Gov. Tim Walz’s support of recent legislation aimed at investing in fish hatcheries and repairing boat access across the state. Investments like this are important to ensure boating and fishing remain popular and accessible to all Minnesotans.

Outdoor recreation means something different to everyone. Because of this, it’s important to have a place where local governments, businesses, and communities can come together to support the outdoor recreation economy, much like the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Task Force. Comprised of 21 members from across multiple sectors of recreation, the task force is tasked with providing Minnesotans and visitors with measured growth, better and more equitable access, and a higher quality of outdoor recreation. Last year, the task force recommended the formal establishment of an Outdoor Recreation Office (OREC). If formed, Minnesota would join 16 states that have already formed an OREC. When outdoor recreation thrives, other industries also thrive.

Given that recreational boating and fishing fuel the state’s outdoor recreation economy, employ over 10,000 local Minnesotans in the marine area, and support nearly 700 businesses like my own, it would be fitting that our lawmakers invest in modern, resilient infrastructure, including boat ramps and to give priority to public boats, fish hatcheries and the training and safety of boaters. Manufacturers, dealers, boaters and the larger recreational community have a long history of proactively supporting boater education efforts and enacting widespread safety measures. It has always been in the industry’s best interest to ensure the well-being and enjoyment of all participants on the water. Without these important measures, boating cannot thrive.

Boating and other outdoor recreation bring people together to enjoy the many great things the Land of 10,000 Lakes has to offer. It is our responsibility to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities.

John Wooden is the owner of River Valley Power and Sport.

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