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Is Pennsylvania outdoor recreation an untapped economic driver?

Industry generates $17 billion in the state

  • Scott LaMar
Riding bicycle on Northwest River Trail near Columbia, Lancaster County.

Riding bicycle on Northwest River Trail near Columbia, Lancaster County.

Aired; February 21st, 2024.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Pennsylvanians re-discovered or discovered the outdoors all around them. Outdoor recreation has always thrived in Pennsylvania with its vast natural resources, state parks, trails, hunting, fishing, sports and so many other activities.

But it’s been only recently that outdoor recreation has been identified as an industry and economic driver in Pennsylvania. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, outdoor recreation adds $17 billion to the state’s economy and creates 164,000 jobs. The state has plans to grow the outdoor recreation industry even more.

Pennsylvania’s Director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, Nathan Reigner described who and what makes up the outdoor recreation economy on The Spark Wednesday,”We can think of them as including the stuff of outdoor recreation designers, manufacturers, retailers, distributors, repairers of clothing equipment, vehicles in outdoor recreation. We’ve got some fine brands coming out of Pennsylvania producing outdoor recreation equipment. So that’s the first component of the industry. Second part of the of the industry or our experience providers, ski areas, mountain lodges, guides, outfitters, rental shops, food, beverage, lodging associated with outdoor recreation. And then we’ve got the third component of our industry and those who are our professionals, our creative professionals, our journalists, photographers, videographers, social media influencers working in the outdoors are technical professionals like mapmakers and guidebook writers, planners, designers, builders in this space. That’s the first big component of our outdoor economy. The second big component of our outdoor economy is the contribution that the outdoors makes to community and economic development. And here we’re really talking about quality of life, the quality of life for Pennsylvanians that live here now, and the quality of life that it can attract.”

Reigner said the plan going forward is to activate the outdoor economy,”I think what we are realizing now is this phenomenon of outdoor recreation, the investments we make in it, the infrastructure we build to support it, the people who work in outdoor recreation. The benefits that that system generate go well beyond fun. They go well beyond health. They go well beyond advancing our conservation and sustainability. It really is at the core of the productivity of our Commonwealth. And for many of our communities particularly, are more rural communities. It is, in fact, a pathway to a better future for them.”

Reigner pointed to Columbia in Lancaster County as an example of how outdoor recreation has helped revitalize a town,”The Northwest River Trail has been developed along the Susquehanna River. We have a crossing, new facility built along the river there. If we talk with the mayor of Columbia, if we talk to business owners, in the region, what we hear are stories about new entrepreneurial opportunities, new businesses opening up, and, visitors coming to town and those towns really, really thriving in a way that they hadn’t been, a few years prior to the development of this outdoor recreation.”

Reigner was asked whether the development of outdoor recreation will have to be weighed against traditional housing and industrial development that creates tax revenue,”For our economic development, for industrial developments to be productive, they’ve got to have people who want to live and work around those. And for people to want to live and work around, in any given community, that community needs to have a high quality of life, which is a product of outdoor recreation, of arts and culture, of historic preservation, of good schools, of public safety, etc.. So, I don’t think we look for the biggest number on the spreadsheet and put all of our eggs there. I think what we’re trying to do, I think certainly with the Office of Outdoor Recreation, with the Economic Development Strategy, etc., is develop a well-rounded and competitive Pennsylvania.”


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