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Outdoor Recreation in WV: 90,000 Jobs, $9 Billion Economic Activity

Outdoor business like Water Stone Outdoors in Fayetteville represent tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity for West Virginia. (Kenny Parker)
Outdoor business like Water Stone Outdoors in Fayetteville represent tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity for West Virginia. (Kenny Parker)
August 11, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Outdoor recreation means 90,000 jobs and $9 billion in consumer spending for West Virginia, according to a new report.

The Outdoor Industry Association found recreation pays $2.4 billion in wages and more than $650 million in state and local taxes, even before that money moves out through the local economy.

Kenny Parker, co-owner of Water Stone Outdoors in Fayetteville, says the best part is that there's room to grow.

"Go to say, Bar Harbor, Maine, or any of those places and just count the number of businesses," he says. "This place could accommodate a lot more businesses that are owned by individuals who create their own job."

Observers sometimes downplay the outdoor industry's impact, arguing it creates many part-time, low-pay jobs. But Parker says when the number is 90,000 jobs, there's going to be room at the top. Plus, he says the money that comes in with tourists rolls over into other, unrelated businesses.

Dave Arnold, a founder and vice president of Adventures on the Gorge, started out running whitewater rafts decades ago. Now, he's the vice-president of an adventure resort company. He says West Virginia is within a long drive of as much as half of the U.S. population. The problem, Arnold says, is they don't know how great it is here.

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

Arnold points out the state spent about $30 million on tourism marketing at its peak - now that's under $10 million.

Parker agrees tourism marketing is a pretty sure thing for a state that has struggled with many kinds of economic insecurity. He says, for instance, getting a Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would be what he calls a "no-brainer."

"Everyone's going to benefit from it," notes Parker. "The National Park Service arrowhead logo, I mean, it brings dollars to an economy."

A recent poll done for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the National Wildlife Federation saw strong support for monument designation statewide. It also found very strong opposition to selling off public lands in other states.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV