Vermonters who love the outdoors know just how amazing a place our state truly is.

And once again, complementing our stories and anecdotes about our adventures around the Green Mountains, there is data that proves it is outstanding.

Earlier this month the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released statistics measuring the outdoor recreation economy for the nation, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia. The new U.S. data show that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 1.8% ($374.3 billion) of current-dollar gross domestic product for the nation in 2020. At the state level, outdoor recreation value added as a share of state GDP ranged from 4.3% in Montana to 1.2% in New York and Connecticut. The share was 0.8% in the District of Columbia.

After Montana and Hawaii, Vermont was next in line. According to the BEA data that measures spending generated by activities from snow sports to fishing, camping, hiking, boating and bicycling, the contribution of Vermont’s outdoor recreation made a slight drop from its position as the second highest state in 2019 at 5.2%. It is 3.7% in 2020.

For Vermont, the data validated outdoor recreation’s significant role in the state’s economic recovery, despite the limitations of the pandemic, according to a news release announcing the report and the Vermont data.

In Vermont, the BEA data is being analyzed and distributed by the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance, a private sector-led nonprofit organization, and the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, a public/private initiative of Gov. Phil Scott's administration. These groups are working together to strengthen Vermont’s outdoor recreation economy, environmental stewardship, and human wellness, according to the news release. 

“Throughout the outdoor sector, there were bright spots and hard hits in 2020, but the big takeaway is that outdoor recreation was an essential economic foundation throughout the pandemic,” stated Kelly Ault, executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance.

Reading between the lines, many Vermonters — including those new to the outdoors and historically underrepresented populations — turned to the outdoors as a place for recreation during the pandemic, according to state officials. 

“The state of Vermont saw record breaking participation in outdoor recreation activities and use of Vermont State Parks in 2020. Our parks welcomed well over 1 million visitors, the highest visitation rate since 1988 and the fifth highest in Vermont’s history,” said Michael Snyder, VOREC chair and commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

“Participation numbers reaffirm the state’s recent historic investments in outdoor recreation, which have included over $20 million directed by Governor Scott to fund outdoor recreation grant programs, supporting recreational infrastructure on state lands and the Vermont Trail System, major maintenance and access enhancements in state parks and state forests, and the construction of new rustic cabins in state parks.” 

The news release states: Vermont’s investments in local communities that are building their economies with outdoor recreation at the center will improve stewardship in places that saw high use during the pandemic as well as support new access for residents and visitors to enjoy Vermont’s world-class outdoor assets for decades to come. 

Among the areas where there was reported to be increased outdoor usage was along the Long Trail system, and on the state's network of mountain biking trails. Unsurprising, snow activities was the largest conventional activity in Colorado ($1.2 billion), Utah ($468 million), Vermont ($191 million) and Wyoming ($92 million).

Outdoor recreation has been good for the state's overall economy, too. According to the news release, the uptick in participation led to higher demand for products. Vermont’s outdoor retailers and manufacturers experienced exceptionally strong sales over the past year, despite the closure and shortened hours of many businesses during the “stay safe, stay home” orders of spring 2020.

According to the BEA, sales of outdoor gear and equipment increased 4% from 2019 to 2020. However, the pandemic impacted various types of outdoor businesses differently and businesses that relied on out-of-state tourism are still struggling to recover.  

The BEA data also highlighted some areas needing improvement for Vermont, such as workforce development, the release noted. Vermont already ranked among the lowest of all the states in 2019 for number of employees, wages and compensation and the BEA data showed a further slide in 2020. Total jobs decreased from 19,589 (2019) to 13,256 (2020) with most of the jobs lost falling on retail, accommodations and food services.

It's nice to have the validation. Now go outside and reflect upon it.

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