Product Reviews

Outdoor Recreation Boom In PA Persists, Data Shows

By Lauren Jessop | The Center Square

Delaware Canal State Park in Falls Township.
Credit: Tom Sofield/

While outdoor recreation sites provide physical and mental health benefits to Pennsylvanians, the businesses related to the industry are making significant contributions to the health of the state’s economy, according to recent federal data.

Industries related to outdoor recreation in manufacturing, retail, and tourism ­employed over 150,000 people and added $14 billion to the gross domestic product in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently announced Bureau statistics showing the sector was responsible for 1.6% of the state’s total economic productivity and 2.5% of its share of workers in 2021.

In comparison, nationwide, the industry accounted for 1.9 % ­– or $454 billion ­of current dollar GDP. At the state level, those shares ranged from 4.8% in Hawaii to 1.3% in New York and Connecticut.

Over the past five years, according to the DCNR, the outdoor manufacturing sector has grown by 25% and wages earned are 10% higher than those in other sectors.

The retail sector accounts for the largest portion of the industry and is rapidly growing. Since 2017, the contribution to the state’s GDP from the sale of hiking, camping, climbing equipment, and the like, rose by 52%.

On the tourism side, visitors to recreation areas contributed $5.3 billion to the state’s GDP by frequenting restaurants, lodging establishments, and other local businesses.

Pennsylvania recently joined a number of states focused on the connections between outdoor enjoyment, health, and the outdoor industry, and in January 2022, Nathan Reigner became the state’s first Director of Outdoor Recreation.

The DCNR’s statement says Reigner, a PhD social scientist, has an extensive background in planning, managing, and building collaboration to support outdoor recreation at every level. His career has focused on helping tourism destinations deliver outstanding experiences while protecting their character.

The agency says there is potential for job growth and investment in the industry, but that will require a coordinated effort. To that end, Reigner’s office is facilitating the Recreation Engagement Coalition a group he calls “the most diverse and comprehensive outdoor recreation advisory body every formed in Pennsylvania.”

The coalition serves as the department’s primary advisory body whose task is to help the outdoor economy deliver by ensuring that every resident reaps the rewards that outdoor recreation brings.

The REC is made up of approximately 50 members representing state agencies and organizations, and local groups from across the state –­ all with influence and expertise in the outdoor recreation sector.

Since convening in September 2022, they have met several times, including a two-day workshop hosted at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Petersburg, Reigner told The Center Square.

He said the group has been instrumental in setting the mission and strategic priorities for Pennsylvania’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, and “helping to ensure that uniting, growing, and strengthening Pennsylvania’s outdoor economy is a priority of Governor’s Shapiro administration.”

The group’s upcoming plans include co-hosting a series of nine stakeholder meetings across the Commonwealth in April. During these meetings, their collective vision will be presented and they will seek input from “outdoor economy leaders in business, community and economic development, tourism, healthcare, advocacy, education, and resource management,” Reigner said.

He said through these regional meetings, the perspectives of hundreds of knowledgeable and committed stakeholders will be added, positioning them to put forward a final recommendation for the mission, priorities, and operation of their office by the beginning of summer.

When asked if they had data on how 2022 compared to the figures presented by the BEA, Reigner said that although it was too early to make predictions, it is safe to say the economic impact will remain significant for Pennsylvania.

Like all industries, our outdoor industry is affected by the same influences that affect the state’s broader economy, which can result in year-to-year changes, Reigner said.

“However, the long-term trend is clear –­ the contribution of Pennsylvania’s outdoor industry grew by 17% over the past 10 years, and with support and encouragement, we can help this growth continue over the decades to come,” he said.

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Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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