Pennsylvania became the 19th state to establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation and this will help boost the commonwealth’s outdoors economy. The commonwealth’s outdoors economy generates $14 billion a year and accounts for 1.6% of the state’s GDP.
When Gov. Josh Shapiro signed his first state budget into law earlier this month, Pennsylvania became the 19th state in the nation to establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation. The new office will operate under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and will serve as a conduit that connects state government and private businesses in order to help grow Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation industry.
The 2023-2024 budget provides $112 million to maintain and improve the infrastructure in the commonwealth’s parks and forests and $2.8 million to support the operating needs for the new Office of Outdoor Recreation.
Even though the new office will be receiving only a small sum of money from the budget, Nathan Rigner, who is the Director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, used a colorful analogy to describe the office’s importance in advancing Pennsylvania’s outdoors economy.
“A way I think about it: We make a stew, where there’s this stew pot of economic development on the commonwealth stove, and while salt may be a very small component of the stew pot by volume, if we leave salt out of the recipe, that’s going to be an unpalatable stew that nobody’s going to want to eat,” Rigner said in an interview.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania added $13.6 billion to the commonwealth’s economy and generated $6.7 billion in compensation in 2021. The outdoors economy accounts for 152,000 jobs and 1.6% of the commonwealth’s GDP.
“Our state parks and outdoor recreation industry are key to our economy – hosting nearly 40 million visitors each year and boosting local businesses and the local economy in and around our parks. My budget’s key investments will help grow our economy while creating more opportunities for Pennsylvanians to enjoy the outdoors and spend time with their friends and families,” Shapiro said in a statement highlighting the opening of Lehigh Gorge State Park in May.
The state has over 4 million acres of public land and manages 124 state parks.
“Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation puts $14 billion a year into the economy. It’s the sixth largest outdoor economy in the country, and that includes camping, RVs, hunting and fishing, and everything else,” said Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
Throughout the pandemic, Pennsylvania residents visited their local state parks and hiking trails on a more frequent basis, and trips to those recreation areas continued after the pandemic hit its peak.
“One of the things that’s happening and we saw during the pandemic, the use of the trails and the parks was just off the charts. And there’s been some stickiness to that,” said Woodwell.
John Kline, a policy advisor for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and represents other organizations in the sportsmen community, praised the funding of the new office and echoed the sentiments that other conservation groups expressed.
“When so many people are enjoying and taking advantage of the outdoors and the outdoor space we have here in Pennsylvania, the Secretary of [the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] had to literally close off some parks because there were just too many people at one time. There was a crush. If that’s not evidence of how important our outdoors space is to people, particularly in the hunting, fishing and trapping world, then I don’t know what is,” Kline said.
“Having an executive level organization at DCNR coordinate and make known the benefits of these outdoor pursuits is very important to all of us,” he added.