top of page

Unlocking Outdoor Recreation for All: What We Learned

Fourth Economy recently hosted the Unlocking Outdoor Recreation for All webinar, featuring Jordan Katcher, Facilitator and Adjunct Professor at the University of Utah; Chris Perkins, Senior Director at Outdoor Recreation Roundtable; and Marcus Shoffner, Founder of The Outdoor Inclusion Coalition.

The panelists shared how they are connecting communities to the benefits of outdoor recreation-based economic development, while minimizing environmental impacts; introducing people to meaningful career paths in the outdoor economy; ensuring outdoor recreation participation is representative of the demographics and needs of all Americans; and welcoming new participants while ensuring the health of the natural resources that outdoor recreation depends on.

Over 100 attendees from 17 states, ranging from Maine, to Florida, to West Virginia, to Wyoming, joined us for the discussion among these outdoor economy leaders. For those who couldn’t attend, the webinar recording and resources from panelists are now available.

Chris set the stage for what’s going on in outdoor recreation today by discussing the current landscape and what the pandemic has meant for outdoor recreation, especially in rural areas. “Covid is responsible for so much societal harm, but it has also brought with it an unexpected silver lining: More Americans than ever are getting outdoors,” he said.

“Americans are not just getting outdoors on a day to day basis, but actually uprooting and moving to places with access to outdoor recreation, which is actually changing historic migration trends in rural communities,” Chris explained further.

In a recent Rural Sociology article, Ken Johnson, Demographer from the University of New Hampshire, noted that a third of non metro counties have gained population from 2020-2021 despite a spike in deaths from Covid at that time and that the growth was most pronounced where recreational activities were a major part of the economy or where they were attached to natural amenities like mountains, lakes, and sea shores.

A third of non metro counties have gained population from 2020-2021 despite a spike in deaths from Covid.

In the United States, the Outdoor Recreation Economy had a 3x growth in GDP compared to the US Economy from 2020-2021.

Jordan and Marcus shared their work around equity, rural engagement, and partnership within the outdoor recreation sector.

Jordan leads efforts to address the relationship between outdoor recreation, community development, and culture in her work for the University of Utah’s Gateway and Natural Amenity Region (GNAR) initiative. For communities just embarking on the process of envisioning their outdoor economy, she emphasized the importance of maintaining an active dialogue with residents in your community and investing in community engagement.

“If you establish a baseline for how to communicate with your community on an ongoing basis, you can talk with residents to figure out what are the challenges, what are their concerns, what are they excited about, what can we move forward together, and how can we support each other in that kind of work?”, Jordan explained. “These issues are complex, but people can understand complexity. I always encourage communities to utilize their residents as part of the problem solving enterprise,” she said.

Marcus founded the Outdoor Inclusion Coalition in Pittsburgh, PA, to advance recreational places, spaces, and careers in the outdoors for all to thrive. When looking at the industry as a whole and how it relates to his work, Marcus shared ways the industry is meeting the mark and where it needs to improve.

“I think the intentionality around localized work and grassroots efforts has been very welcoming to me. From the top down – organizations, funders, governmental officials – are starting to see that there’s a groundswell of people who love their park and love this place that they recreate in, but I would like to see a little more support to revitalize the swings, or repave some of the access points, or to make it fully ADA accessible through historic designations,” Marcus explained.

It’s important that we set a structure that allows anyone to thrive outside, no matter what their identity may be,” he said.

Finally, Chris shared his perspectives on workforce development in outdoor recreation. He emphasized that outdoor Recreation is nearly a trillion dollar industry nationally, and so it’s important to reflect on what programs and initiatives are needed to build an outdoor workforce that works for everyone. Chris highlighted opportunities including: defining outdoor skills and filling skill gaps; widening perceptions of outdoor work; building a diverse and inclusive workforce; and affordability and housing.

In closing, Chris prompted Jordan and Marcus to share one key takeaway from the conversation.

Jordan encouraged the attendees to go above and beyond to reach people and be proactive about talking to residents and community. “You can use conflict to co-create in some really awesome ways,” she said.

Marcus emphasized the importance of authenticity in collaboration. “Be true to yourself, know what you can and can’t do, and deliver,” he said.


If your community is looking to make investments in the outdoor economy, Fourth Economy can help your community plan to leverage outdoor assets for robust economic and community development. Reach out to us at [email protected] today!


bottom of page