The American West is outdoor recreation’s cash cow, according to state-by-state data collected by the Outdoor Industry Association and Southwick Associates. The data cover activities like hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, biking, kayaking and climbing as well as purchases of Jeeps, ATVs, ROVs, dune buggies and motorboats. Vehicle purchases, both motorized and human powered, explain why numbers rest in the neighborhood of thousands per person per year.
OIA Marketing and Communications Manager Gareth Martins says vast public lands and other amenities account for some of the westward bias. However, comparisons between consumer spending and public lands acreage showed no significant correlation, which indicates this isn’t the only factor at work.
A Cultural Phenomenon
In the west, “Outdoor recreation is culturally ingrained,” says Matt Powell, NPD’s vice president of industry analysis. The outdoors simply aren’t as prevalent in the East Coaster’s lifestyle.
There are some outliers, however. New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine receive a boost in spending from ski tourism. Louisiana and South Carolina benefit from hunting and fishing economies.
“Louisiana is a sportsman’s paradise,” said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick and Associates. Though Florida and Louisiana have similar climates, Louisianans spend about 1.5 times more than Floridians on outdoor recreation. Southwick speculates that Florida’s large retired population affects overall spending on more adventurous activities.
West Virginia’s climbing and skiing cultures—as well as six national parks and 31 National Natural and Historic Landmarks—put it on the map, an island in a sea of conservative spending. West Virginians spend up to 4 times more per capita than neighboring states.
Low per capita spending in California comes as a surprise given its world-renowned national parks. Its neighbor Nevada sees dramatically higher spending. Powell speculates that a small cadre of committed outdoors enthusiasts could skew Nevada’s smaller population, while overwhelming numbers of urbanites dilute cohorts of adventurers in California.
A Note on the Data
One thing to keep in mind: These numbers are from 2012. Any recent changes will come to light when OIA releases its next survey in 2017. Currently, there are no annual federal reports on outdoor recreation spending. Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner and New Hampshire’s Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced a bill in October that would require the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis to measure outdoor recreation jobs and spending as a sector of GDP. Until such a bill passes, however, such evaluations must flow from the surveys and spreadsheets of private entities like OIA.
The 10 states that spend the most annually, per capita, on outdoor recreation
1. Alaska, $12,988
2. Wyoming, $7,807
3. Montana, $5,770
4. Nevada, $5,401
5. Hawaii, $4,812
6. North Dakota, $4,440
7. Delaware, $4,362
8. Utah, $4,203
9. West Virginia, $4,096
10. Vermont, $3,994
Corey Buhay is a Boulder, Colorado-based freelance writer and columnist. Her hobbies include poring obsessively over spreadsheets, style guides, and topo maps.