By Alexandra Kozak
Each year, millions participate in outdoor recreation activities in Pennsylvania, pumping billions into the state’s economy. These residents, and the business owners who will help even more Pennsylvanians to enjoy the outdoors this summer, deserve to see investments made into maintaining the power of our growing outdoor recreation economy.
A new economic study by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership finds that hunting, fishing, biking, camping, and other activities drove $58 billion in statewide spending in 2020—that’s a 26-percent increase compared to 2016. The power of outdoor recreation spending in PA is undeniable, particularly since hunting, fishing, and boating provided a real lifeline to so many during the pandemic. Pennsylvanians pursuing their passions helped support more than 430,000 jobs—up 10 percent since six years ago—earning $20 billion in salaries and wages.
It is easy to see why water-centric activities have grown across the commonwealth—with more than 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, Pennsylvania is a water-rich state. Many state parks and forests saw 100- to 200-percent increases in visitation in 2020, but parks with large water features saw as much as a 400-percent increase in foot traffic.
Conservation of our natural resources is critical for this to continue. With about 30 percent or at least 25,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania impaired for one or more uses, plenty more investment is needed to realize the full potential of our waters. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has said it needs $1.4 billion to address infrastructure challenges and continued maintenance in our parks and forests.
To support habitat and access while boosting our economy, Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly should provide adequate funding for a Growing Greener III program—which has a long track record of proven success in conserving the state’s fish and wildlife habitat—and a Clean Streams Fund using resources already granted to the state as part of national economic recovery efforts.
This would have impacts from the Keystone State all the way to the Chesapeake Bay, a wise investment, given that the Bay filters drinking water for 75 percent of watershed residents. Failing to restore Pennsylvania’s impaired waters will mean that our drinking water sources, outdoor recreation opportunities, wildlife, and public health remain at risk.
For the sake of the thousands of Pennsylvanians who work in the outdoor recreation industry and the countless families who want to continue to enjoy nature, stay healthy, and make memories, we must provide the funding needed to give our economy this boost while conserving natural resources that increase our quality of life for years to come.
Alexandra Kozak is the Pennsylvania field manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.