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Outdoor recreation bringing in money, jobs to state

By FRED PACE

HD Media

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Outdoor recreation is bringing in billions of dollars and lots of jobs to Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, according to a new report by the Outdoor Industry Association.

In West Virginia, outdoor recreation means 90,000 jobs and $9 billion in consumer spending, the report showed. It found recreation pays $2.4 billion in wages and more than $650 million in state and local taxes.

Officials say the outdoor recreation economy is made up of camping, fishing, hunting, motorcycling, off-roading, snow sports, trail sports, water sports, wheel sports and wildlife viewing.

“Kayaking has really taken off here,” said Dr. Ron Stollings, who is a Democratic member of the West Virginia Senate representing the 7th District, which includes all of Boone, Logan and Lincoln counties, as well as parts of Mingo and Wayne counties, since 2006. “Just look on the Big and Little Coal rivers on any weekend, and you will see more than 100 people floating on them. Folks over in Logan and Lincoln counties are floating the Guyandotte River, so it has become a phenomenally fast growing industry here.”

Stollings says outdoor recreation is just one of many opportunities the southern coalfield counties have to diversify its economies and create tourism destination spots.

“We have Hatfield-McCoy ATV trails and you can now float our rivers,” Stollings said. “You can also do the more traditional things, like hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and more. We have recently introduced elk hunting into the mix. I am excited about all of the opportunities we have here,”

The Little Coal Poker Float event took place Saturday. It is a fund-raising and community awareness event that supports improving the Little Coal River.

“The Coal River Group is working hard and we have to continue to get the word out about how great it is down here in the southern West Virginia when it comes to outdoor recreation activities, as well as the business opportunities that come with them,” Stollings said. “We know there is a huge return on investment in tourism marketing and letting folks around the world know what we have to offer in West Virginia. So we should be blowing our own horn and letting people know about all the outdoor recreational opportunities in our state.”

Dave Arnold, a founder and vice president of Adventures on the Gorge, said in a West Virginia News Service report that he started out running whitewater rafts decades ago. Now, he’s the vice president of an adventure resort company.

Arnold says West Virginia is within a long drive of as much as half of the U.S. population. The problem, according to both Arnold and Stollings, is the fact the state spent about $30 million annually on tourism marketing at its peak, but now that’s under $10 million.

“What that means is that you’ve got to really, really sell,” Arnold said. “I mean, they’ll come, but we have to sing the song loud, and we have to sing the song in unison.”

Meanwhile in Kentucky, outdoor recreation continues to grow its economic impact to the state, according to the same report.

It showed Kentucky had an economic impact amounting to $12.8 billion last year, up from $8.4 billion in 2012. The report indicates that Kentucky directly supports 120,000 jobs and annually generates $12.8 billion in consumer spending and $756 million in state and local tax revenue.

“Kentucky’s natural beauty and outdoor opportunities have allowed adventure tourism to continue to grow across the state,” Kentucky Department of Tourism Commissioner Kristen Branscum said. “More visitors are looking to explore and get outside as part of their vacations in a world that is screen-driven. Kentucky has limitless outdoor recreation in all parts of the state and in communities big/small, urban and rural.”

The association said the numbers demonstrate that Kentucky is beginning to position itself as that top-tier destination for travelers who want to get out and have a diversity of activities that are accessible to all types of visitors.

In 2012, the impact nationally was $646 billion and grew in 2017 to $887 billion in consumer spending annually. That relates to over 7.6 million jobs, and more than $120 billion in tax revenues. Over $702 billion is spent on trip-related expenses annually, the report showed.

“These numbers indicate that people are willing to travel to participate in their chosen outdoor activities, fueling local and state tourism economies,” Branscum added. “Programs such as the Kentucky Trail Town Program and the Cross Kentucky Master Trail Plan offer guidance and assistance to local leaders and trail advocates as they work to develop recreational opportunities.”

In the same report, the Ohio outdoor recreation economy generates 215,000 direct jobs; $24.3 billion in consumer spending; $7.0 billion in wages and salaries; and $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.

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