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Three key takeaways from the Promising Practices of Outdoor Recreation Economies Webinar

In August 2022, Fourth Economy hosted Promising Practices of Outdoor Recreation Economies. Five industry experts across Pennsylvania led the hour-long discussion on subjects varying from how they define the Outdoor Economy, the wide-ranging benefits of investing in outdoor recreation, how they work with economic developers in their respective regions, and more.

Although the conversation was geared toward the Outdoor Economy in Pennsylvania, more than 100 individuals attended the webinar, representing PA, IN, LA, MI, NC, NY, and OH.

Here are 3 key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Defining the Outdoor Economy or Outdoor Recreation as an activity does not paint the full picture

In broad terms, the Outdoor Economy consists of a core, supporting, and peripheral sectors of the economy. Those sectors contain many industries, including design, manufacturing, and distribution of outdoor clothing, equipment, and supplies; the provision of outdoor recreation experiences like ski areas and mountain lodges through guides and outfitters; professional services associated with outdoor recreation, including map makers, information providers, web service providers, landscape architects, attorneys and accountants serving the outdoor recreation industry.

“Outdoor recreation and the Outdoor Economy is a bigger entity that is about the experiences that we have when we’re outside when we’re connecting with nature, and when we’re spending quality time with family and friends,” Panelist Nathan Reigner, Ph.D., Director of Outdoor Recreation, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said.

After pinning down all that encompasses the Outdoor Economy, it’s important to identify the Outdoor Economy Assets, such as trails, parks, campgrounds, and open spaces that you are trying to leverage, and think about how they play into other community and economic development activities like business development, and workforce recruitment and retention strategies.

Thinking expansively can help identify other non-traditional avenues for tying outdoor assets to economic development strategies. When Ta Enos founded the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, their initial focus was tourism, but that quickly shifted to the maker and artisan industry when they realized people visiting the PA Wilds wanted to take home a piece of their visit with them. With the movement away from tourism and toward a maker economy, a richer and broader story of who made up the PA Wilds and what they could offer emerged.

The Center has pursued various innovative strategies, such as a pilot program to attract remote workers to live and work in remote communities of the PA Wilds region for one month to experience what these areas offer. The program leans heavily into the outdoor riches these communities offer - hoping to showcase a lifestyle with ample access to outdoor recreation amenities.

2. Investing in Outdoor Recreation is beneficial for the economy, no matter where you are from

Patrick Starr, Executive Vice President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, points to the Outdoor Recreation Economy as a gateway for environmental stewardship.

In Pennsylvania, some places were historically used for natural resource extraction for the timbering, oil, and coal industries. Today, Starr explained, the towns, villages, and infrastructure that remain allow disadvantaged, rural communities to be stewards of their place and conserve the landscape to produce opportunities that attract business development, local wealth building, and equity addition to the community.

“This approach can apply to communities that have been left behind by other strategies,” added Silas Chamberlin, Ph.D., Vice President of Economic and Community Development, York County Economic Alliance.

As the East Coast Greenway Alliance’s Mid Atlantic Manager, Daniel Paschall has worked to bring the outdoors closer to people in urban and suburban areas by bridging the gap between trails across Pennsylvania. Supporting this connection is key to increasing people’s knowledge of opportunities to interact with the outdoors.

“An important part of this process was being a cheerleader for the trail to get built and being supportive by listening and learning from residents’ lived experience, community leaders who know better, and building relationships with partners on the ground,” Paschall said.

Asking questions and being intentional about learning from the residents who interact with outdoor assets was vital for assessing barriers to interaction with outdoor recreation, especially during the pandemic.

Outdoor recreation and the Outdoor Economy are a bigger picture entity that is about the experiences we have when we’re outside, connecting with nature, and spending quality time with family and friends.

When individuals are equipped with knowledge of opportunities to get outside and make the outdoors a part of their lifestyle, the positive benefits follow–healthcare costs are lower, individuals' quality of life is higher, and the outdoors is an integral part of their lives in the place they call home.

3. Building out Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure with Equity and accessibility in mind leads to success

Communities that benefit from outdoor access or the development of trail towns also tend to be the least digitally connected. In York County, PA, Silas Chamberlin sees the broadband and digital divide issue as synergistic. Connecting communities to federal funding programs that help invest in broadband infrastructure are important. In Chamberlin’s experience, he utilized Cares Act funding to build middle mile broadband on the Heritage Trail, and they are now circling back to do last mile networks in trail town communities.

In the PA Wilds, Ta Enos has a program for people working remotely in the area. One of the shops selling products from the region costs $1200 per month for internet access. Enos’ approach to increasing broadband infrastructure is twofold–she keeps the pressure on by lending her voice wherever partners are talking about internet access to showcase the reality of this issue and, in the PA Wilds, they ‘dress for the part they want, not what they have.’ Working with the best technology available, the PA Wilds has implemented broadband infrastructure one step at a time, so the impact is generational.


Are you connected to the Outdoor Economy? Find out how Fourth Economy can help communities leverage their outdoor economy assets here.

Didn’t get the chance to attend the webinar? Find the recording and additional resources here.

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