Nov. 16—Detoured from their usual routines and locked out of much of their usual entertainment, Pennsylvanians flocked to the great outdoors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that they have stayed out there.
According to the analysis, outdoor recreation generated a whopping $13.4 billion for the state’s economy in 2021, sixth highest in the nation and a 20% increase over 2020. The sector was 1.6% of the state’s gross domestic product.
Nationally, the Bureau of Economic Analysis found outdoor recreation generated $862 billion in economic activity in 2021, and was responsible for 3% of all jobs.
The state government has responded wisely to earlier data about the public’s embrace of outdoor activity during the pandemic. Recognizing huge increases in state park visits, the Legislature and Wolf administration dedicated $700 million in federal pandemic relief funds to environmental programs, including to improve water quality and to address long-standing maintenance backlogs in state parks. They also appropriated $56 million to create three new state parks, increasing the total to 124.
The new, broader analyses likewise should drive state policy.
The first lesson is that environmental stewardship, which is a worthy priority in its own right, also is good for business.
“Outdoor recreation continues to be a thriving and significant industry within the commonwealth and this data helps us better understand what we are doing well, while also providing guidance on where we can grow this industry for it own sake and to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians,” said Nathan Reigner, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ director of outdoor recreation. “Unlike economic development through other industries, development through outdoor recreation also stimulates physical health, mental wellbeing, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.”
The economic data should build an even stronger consensus in Pennsylvania for strong environmental stewardship. For example, the law should require the Department of Environmental Protection to ponder the broader consequences regarding outdoor business before it blithely approves unwarranted projects.
The benefits of sound stewardship extend beyond even the blessings of clean air and water. State policy should reflect that.