Outdoor Recreation Outlook 2016

Camping View

The American Recreation Coalition (ARC) has taken a look at the current and projected state of outdoor recreation in the U.S. through 2016.  Their focus is primarily on the industries and companies that support recreationists.  They conclude that these industries have seen significant gains this year and they anticipate more gains next year.

Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation

Bike DollarsWhile changes are in the works,  Federal bean counters, so far,  don’t think of outdoor recreation an an industry per se.  Instead, they tabulate a lot of other industries, many of which have components that are driven by activity of outdoor recreationists.  According to ARC, outdoor recreationists spend $650 billion per year and support tens of millions of jobs.  Their estimates could be off by a lot and outdoor recreation would still be a big business.

Cars have always played a huge part in the American economy,  however outdoor recreation is right up there.  The Auto Alliance estimates that car buyers spend $953 billion a year including purchases and maintenance while automobile manufacturers support 7.25 million jobs in the economy. This suggests that workers in outdoor recreation are paid less than workers in the automobile industry (we already knew that), but overall the industries are not too far apart in their overall economic impact.

Driving Growth in Outdoor Recreation

There are a lot of tiny contributors to the growth in outdoor recreation, Explore! the eMagazine included, however the major factors driving growth in the industry are:

  • National ParkNational Parks with an unprecedented advertising campaign leading to the centennial of the Park system in 2016.  A campaign that will culminate next year.  Besides boosting domestic interest in outdoor recreation, these efforts are drawing foreign visitors to the parks.  Bringing foreign visitors to the U.S. to spend their outdoor recreation dollars is comparable to exporting cars to other nations.  It brings outside money into the U.S. economy.  The goal is 100 million annual foreign visitors.
  • State Parks offer 15 million acres of diverse outdoor recreation opportunity. The most recent count has 740 million visitors per year at the state parks, an increase of 12 million visitors year to year.  Of those visitors, 60 million stayed overnight and 50.3 million were campers.
  • Recreational vehicles for outdoor adventures.  This year saw the sixth year of increasing sales of recreational vehicles.  Sales of travel trailers are setting records.  Continued growth is expected next year.  Recreational use of motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and side-by-sides also continues to grow.
  • Camping on both public and private lands has been increasing.  This year, for example, Kampgrounds of America reports occupancy up 10.2% nationwide. Reservations for camping on Federal lands were up 19% this year.
  • fishingFishing is a growing activity for recreationists.  The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and the Outdoor Foundation, say forty-six million Americans – 15.8% of the U.S. population ages six and older – participated in fishing last year.  A “60 in 60” initiative by RBFF  wants to see 60 million anglers ages 6 and older by 2021.  Another RBFF initiative, “Take Me Fishing” in partnership with Disney Media and Walt Disney World Resort, is drawing kids to fishing.  These efforts should help growth in fishing continue in the future.
  • Boating enthusiasts have not yet driven boat sales back to pre-recession levels, but sales did grow 6% this year and are expected to match that next year.  The marinas that support the boaters are starting to pursue capital improvements again.  There seems to be a developing trend among long-distance boaters that want their marinas associated with destination facilities (pools, clubhouses, restaurants, accommodations and activities).
  • Bicycling families helped the bicycle industry have a good, if not outstanding, year.  Bicycle sales have been fairly consistent over the last 10 years. It’s a sad commentary that kids are bicycling to school and on their own less.  However, more parents are accompanying their kids on bikes.  Increasing expenditures on bicycle tourism promotions are expected to encourage more bicycling.
  • CanoeAdventure sports like whitewater rafting, kayaking and other paddlesports along with other general recreation and cabin rentals saw good growth in 2o15, but zip lines and aerial adventure parks did not do so well.  Apparently there are more people that enjoy heights, but there are also more venues to satisfy their needs.
  • Skiing, snowmobiling and general winter sports depend strongly on the amount of snow and its distribution across the country.  2015 was a pretty good year for snowmobiles, but not so much for the others. It’s hard to predict what will happen next given the volatile weather we have seen.  Some ski areas like Tahoe and Mammoth got some snow and started early, but it’s too soon to tell whether that pattern will continue across the U.S.


It appears that the most important players in outdoor recreation are the public land agencies that are supplying the recreation opportunity and encouraging people to use it.  They all face tough times being at the mercy of Congress for their budgets and for recreational enhancements since the Soil and Water Conservation Fund (S&WCF) died.  We all expect Congress  to come to its senses over the S&WCF, but that may take an election that gets the institution functional again.  The non-Federal agencies do have some opportunities through state and local funding that are not available to the Federal agencies.

It terms of the activities of recreationists on these lands it looks like camping (tent and RV) and fishing are pretty strong and growing.  The other activities examined by the ARC seem to be a mixed bag at fairly stable levels.

Please Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

Pin It on Pinterest