Outdoor recreation provides a real boost for Iowa’s economy

A Sandhill crane in flight over the easternmost portion of the Chichaqua wetlands complex.

The Iowa Environmental Council’s staff took part in Iowa’s most popular outdoor activity, wildlife watching, spotting this sandhill crane at a central Iowa county park in April.

Iowans spend an astonishing $3 billion on outdoor recreation each year, spending that supports more than 30,000 jobs in the state, according to a new report from an Iowa State University research team led by economist Daniel Otto.

The report, which analyzed spending on visits to state and county parks, multi-use trails, and lakes and rivers, is an update to Otto’s 2007 report on the same topic.  Since that study, both Iowans’ participation in outdoor activities—and the impact of those activities—have increased.

According to the report, “even though Iowa is not endowed with a stretch of the Rocky Mountains or a sandy ocean beach, the average percentage of Iowans engaging in wildlife-related activities is significantly higher than that of the country as a whole.”

In total, people make an estimated 56.5 million visits to the recreational venues included in the study each year.  Iowa’s most common recreational activity was wildlife watching, which 44% of Iowans—or just more than one million Iowans—take part in each year.

Following wildlife watching, fishing and hunting were the next most popular activities.

Outdoor recreation is about more than economic impact in Iowa.  Otto’s team also noted a variety of other benefits, including improving quality of life, attracting new businesses, and improving Iowans’ health by providing opportunities for physical activity.

The whole study is available for download from the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University.

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