A new report issued by the Democratic members of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee envisions public lands and tourism as an engine for revitalizing rural America. Rural areas have lagged behind in recovering from the great recession, and rural residents have lower incomes, on average, than their urban counterparts. These challenges are also opportunities however – a chance to create diverse rural economies that protect natural heritage rather than exploiting it.
The outdoor recreation industry generated $374 billion in spending in 2016, supporting more than 4 million jobs. Tourism and outdoor recreation have been on a marked upward trajectory in recent years, growing 4% between 2015 and 2016, and that trend is projected to continue.
Getting outdoors isn’t just for tourists, either. Rural counties with high levels of recreation do better at attracting new residents than their recreation-poor counterparts. At a time when many people are concerned about aging rural populations and the “brain drain” of departing youth, a good outdoor scene could help keep young people in rural areas and attract new talent.
You can read the full report here. The Congresspeople responsible for the report emphasized the importance of maintaining public access, resisting attempts to shrink or privatize public lands, and engaging local communities in meaningful conversations about public land management decisions.