Outdoor recreation buoyed state's economy

Brady Oltmans photo Crowds move towards the interim White Pine Ski Lodge on the last day of the 2020-21 ski season on Fortification Mountain. Outdoor recreation has given Wyoming’s economy an enthusiastic boost since the pandemic’s onset and a recent economic report shows it’ll only grow further in the Cowboy State.

WYOMING – Trending revenues from outdoor recreation in Wyoming took a dramatic climb since the start of the pandemic, statistics show.

The latest numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show outdoor recreation bolstered the state’s economy during a significant increase in demand. Chris Floyd, manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation, shared statistics that shed light on how much that demand has grown since the pandemic’s onset.

“Many outdoor activities saw significant growth, including snowmobiling and ORV riding, which saw an increase in permit sales of over 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively, from 2019 to 2020,” Floyd said. “Although the overall outdoor recreation economic impact numbers declined, most of the losses in the sector were due to limits on a few activities, such as snow skiing and outdoor events, which experienced heavy impacts due to closures and other restrictions during the pandemic.”

Even noteworthy outdoor recreation destinations, like ski resorts, shut down in March 2020 when COVID-19 swept through the country. Wyoming’s outdoor recreation destinations reopened weeks later, and most of them remained open even through the state’s spike in cases last winter – albeit with mask requirements at certain times. Being open, however, allowed businesses to attract and capitalize in the surge of Westward travel and a mass desire to be active while safely social distancing.

However, that initial hit affected Wyoming’s bottom line. Total value added by outdoor recreation dropped Wyoming’s GDP from $1.69 billion in 2019 to $1.25 billion the following year. The employment sector saw a huge decline of more than 33 percent, although total wages declined by only 0.1 percent, according to the latest economic report.

Snow activities, notably including ski resorts, experienced a 37-percent decrease – about $40 million – that essentially offset significant gains made in other outdoor recreation. Hunting and shooting sports, as well as equestrian activities, declined by 21 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

Following those loses, Wyoming’s stock rose to fourth in the country in terms of value added by percentage, GDP and total wages in 2020. The state trailed only Hawaii, Vermont and neighboring Montana.

Summer activities buoyed the state’s economy. Wyoming’s summer recreation activities saw almost across-the-board increases.

Most significantly, economic impacts of boating and fishing increased by an unprecedented 79 percent. Impacts of bicycling rose the state by 13 percent, climbing/hiking/camping increased by 6 percent, then motorcycling and ATV riding rose by 5 percent. RV camping raised Wyoming’s economic impact by 2.5 percent compared to previous years.

According to the report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, many Wyoming businesses reported strong sales of outdoor recreation equipment and vehicles, which would have grown even higher had supply chains been able to keep up with the demand.

The report quoted Mark Black, owner of Cycle City Wyoming in Evanston, a powersports business. Black said his business’s gross sales increased over 40 percent in 2020 compared to the year prior. He said that trend continued through this year, having already surpassed last year’s gross sales year to date.

“Our issue now is the supply chain, where the manufacturers are limiting not only quantities but models as well, and sometimes shipping incomplete units that are waiting on chips for instrument clusters,” he said. “The demand has been pretty consistent and I don’t see it dramatically decreasing for the near future.”

Wyoming State Parks visitation also increased, up 41 percent from 2019. The high numbers to both state and national parks helped increase economic activity statewide as Wyoming experienced downturns in other aspects of its economy, not just mineral extraction.

Economists expect next year’s numbers to greatly surpass even the 2020 statistics, as vaccine availability was made widespread. Visitation to Wyoming also saw significant increases, including to its state and national parks.

Grand Teton National Park announced in October it set a new record for calendar-year visitation. Yellowstone National Park followed with a similar announcement earlier this month.