Outdoor recreation economy continues to grow in Washington

National trade association calculates $26.2 billion in statewide annual economic impact

Washington’s natural splendor plays a major role in its economy, generating an annual $7.6 billion in wages and salaries and $2.3 billion in state and local tax revenue through outdoor recreation, according to a new report released this week by the Outdoor Industry Association. Those numbers are up from a previous study released by the association in 2012.

Statewide, boating, biking, birdwatching, camping, hunting, hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities create an estimated $26.2 billion in annual economic impact, according to the OIA.

Gov. Jay Inslee takes a hike with a group of children in April 2016 in Bellingham during an event highlighting the No Child Left Inside grant. Inslee has been a leader in promoting outdoor recreation, environmental stewardship and the state’s Healthiest Next Generation Initiative. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the numbers Monday at Twin Harbors State Park in Westport during a meeting of outdoor recreation leaders from Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.

Inslee is on a two-day tour of coastal communities that includes boating to Westport, touring shellfish beds in South Bend and Raymond, meeting with leaders in the coastal fishing community, visiting the Discovery Trail in Long Beach and stopping at two state parks.

“These numbers show that when we invest in public land the payoff comes not only in the form of a better environment and quality of life, but in great jobs,” Inslee said. “Love of the outdoors is something that unites the state of Washington.”

Gov. Jay Inslee meets Monday afternoon in Westport with members of the outdoor recreation community while on a two-day tour of the Washington coast. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Outdoor leaders from around the state hailed the new report’s findings.

“The latest OIA numbers are no surprise and serve to remind us of the value that recreation brings to the state,” said Mike Racine of the Washington Scuba Alliance.

The OIA hired Southwick Associates to conduct the report, which draws from public data sources including federal Bureau of Economic Analysis data. The report’s findings are similar to those in an outdoor recreation study released in 2015 by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.

Gov. Jay Inslee talks with mountain bike coach Shaums March, right, in mid-July on the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

More jobs in Washington depend on outdoor recreation (roughly 200,000 jobs) than the aerospace industry (about 136,000 jobs), according to the new numbers. The report also shows that 72 percent of Washingtonians participate in outdoor recreation each year, up nine points from the 2012 study and higher than the national average.

“Washington’s forests, lands and waters call each of us to adventure, to contemplation, to time with family and friends,” said Mike Stevens, state director for The Nature Conservancy. “They’re a legacy for our youth and a heritage for all Washingtonians. They’re also the backbone of a vital outdoor recreation economy.”

Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Michelle Layman knows the important role outdoor recreation plays in a rural economy. The coastal communities along the Willapa River in Southwest Washington offer outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking and camping, but business owners there hope tourists stick around for more.

“We’re kind of the sleepy little community everybody drives through as they go to the beach,” she said, but “showcasing our river gets people to slow down and stop.”

Baylee Layman started Willapa Paddle Adventures at age 17 in Raymond, Wash. Her mother, Michelle Layman, helps run the company, which helps bring tourism to the Willapa Harbor area in Southwest Washington. (Willapa Paddle Adventures photo)

Her daughter, Baylee Layman, started a kayak rental company about three years ago in Raymond at the age of 17. When Baylee left town for college, Michelle stepped in to help run the business. In addition to renting kayaks, Willapa Paddle Adventures leads guided kayaking trips on the river and transports tourists to and from camping trips on Long Island, part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

About half of the company’s customers are from out of town, Michelle said. Once they’re in the Willapa Harbor area, she encourages them to visit other attractions, including nearby restaurants and local history museums.

Outdoor recreation is “getting their foot in the door so they stay a little bit longer,” she said.