The Underappreciated Economic Benefits of Georgia’s Outdoor Industry
By Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Director Leah Dixon and Coastal Director Charles McMillan
“Local and state economies are stimulated by the presence of abundant and well-managed outdoor recreation areas.” – Becky Kelley, former Director, Georgia State Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division
Living within a 10-minute walk of public greenspace brings tremendous benefits to individuals and communities. Parks and greenspace improve individual and physical health. They strengthen community and maintain the health of our natural environment. They help to build resilience by offering shade and stormwater management. In Georgia more broadly, this is also true, but there are other benefits that are often overlooked: outdoor recreation is the 4th largest sector of the nation’s economy (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2017).
As calculated by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), outdoor recreation provides an annual $27.3 billion boon to Georgia’s economy. Put another way, 238,000 people are employed directly within the outdoor recreation industry, which generates $8.1 billion in wages and salaries and has the ability to generate $1.8 billion in state and local tax revenue.
Outdoor recreation is an important economic driver for the state of Georgia and its communities. It is worth noting that this industry’s economic impact amounts to more than double the increasingly visible $10 billion film industry, as well as a large leap over the 207,000 jobs generated by the automotive industry. Additionally, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce has calculated an even greater economic impact for the outdoor economy in 2019. These numbers indicate that the demand for parks, trails, and outdoor recreation opportunities in Georgia are likely to increase. To meet this rising demand, we must increase Georgia’s supply of recreation spaces: city-scale parks and trails, as well as larger protected lands such as state parks and wildlife management areas, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and other natural areas.
While there are many factors included in the OIA’s calculations, one of the most prominent is the opportunities Georgians have to get outside. These opportunities, meaning specific spaces and places which have been set aside and are managed in part or wholly for recreation, would not be so abundant absent the history of natural resource conservation in our state. State treasures as beautiful as Cloudland Canyon State Park or as vital as the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge must be protected alongside “everyday places” like local parks.
Georgians continue to soundly support conservation. In 2016, citizens of Milton, Georgia voted yes on a bond to set aside land for greenspace amidst development pressures from the metro Atlanta area. The “Greenspace Milton” agenda will protect water quality in local rivers and streams, preserve natural areas for wildlife habitat, preserve agricultural land, and create and improve parks. The bond will also provide recreational trails for walking, biking, and equestrian use. With collaboration from the Georgia Conservancy’s Sustainable Growth Program, and supported by the Georgia Conservancy’s Advocacy and Land Conservation staff, the Milton Greenspace Advisory Committee and City staff identified desirable properties to set aside for greenspace management. The Georgia Conservancy also assisted the Committee and City in creating an acquisition strategy that will enable the pursuit of greenspace in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Outdoor recreation is enjoyed all over our state, not just in or near our major cities. After all, the greater Georgia population voted overwhelmingly this past November on a referendum to set aside a portion of the existing sales tax on outdoor sporting goods. These funds will provide for conservation and stewardship, increasing the amount of conserved lands in the state. The newly created Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund will bolster the ability of state agencies, national nonprofits, and local land trusts to hold more lands in permanent protection so that Georgians can take advantage of their natural beauty and educational opportunities.
Many of these protected areas are located near smaller cities and towns, which serve as gateways to outdoor opportunities. As we mentioned in the article, “Why Do Small Towns Matter?” the implementation of thoughtful land practices for outdoor recreation can benefit even the smallest and most rural of Georgia’s communities. There are approximately 390 incorporated areas in our state with less than 10,000 people, and outdoor recreation activities such as fishing and hiking are a point of common interest across our rural, suburban, and urban landscape. As noted by the variety of speakers at our 2018 Common Ground Summit, smaller communities are savvy in leveraging their outdoor opportunities as compelling reasons to locate, relocate, and visit. Examples of small-town environmentally-oriented attractions and initiatives include Porterdale’s Yellow River, Carrollton’s Greenbelt, Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve, and various nature centers sprinkled across Georgia’s unique geography.
Without conservation, Georgia would not have natural resources of such high quality. Without conservation, there would be fewer opportunities to fish, hike, exercise, birdwatch, kayak, and photograph. These are critical assets for Georgians, as well as our many visitors. They are our treasures as well as our responsibilities.
Outdoor recreation was particularly important to the Georgia Conservancy in 2018 with regard to several key aspects of our programmatic work, including the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, the Common Ground Summit, our Stewardship Trips Program and our Small Town Sustainability and Rural Resiliency Initiative. Special public-private partnerships demonstrate the power of outdoor recreation to educate Georgia residents about wildlife management, preservation of critical resources, and active recreation.
When you recreate in Georgia, you become a conservationist. The Georgia Conservancy has been exploring and protecting Georgia since 1967. Come join us!
Featured photo: Mountain Biking at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, by Fernando Dicilis for the Georgia Conservancy