In early 2020, as people around the world were feeling restless at home but didn’t want to risk getting sick, the city of Lander, Wyoming saw an opportunity. “If you wanna come to where there’s nobody, come here,” said Owen Sweeney with Lander’s Chamber of Commerce. And many people did just that. The Wind River mountains have always been a big economic driver, but COVID brought new hikers, bikers and climbers who’ve kept coming back.
Lander isn’t alone in benefitting from surging growth in the outdoor recreation sector, which started during the pandemic. According to new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation contributed over $1 trillion in economic output in 2022 — and it made an outsized contribution to the economies of states like Wyoming, Alaska, Florida and Vermont. The BEA found the sector now makes up 2.2% of the national GDP.
“When you can see we’re bigger than agriculture and utilities and mining and extractive industries, you realize this is a real force for the economy,” said Jessica Turner with the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
But these economies rely on public lands maintained by federal workers. While Congress averted a shutdown last week, it failed to pass a budget that more than just temporarily extends government funding — making it “a yo-yo, rollercoaster kind of existence,” said Sweeney. He added that the possibility of a shutdown after the holidays has mountain towns like his on edge.