OPINION: State investment in outdoor recreation helps Alaska’s economy

The Alaska Outdoor Alliance is the state’s leading coalition of stakeholders with a vested interest in the vitality of Alaska’s outdoor recreation economy. AOA also houses the statewide coalition for active transportation. For the sixth consecutive year that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has released national and state-level data, Alaska’s outdoor recreation economic sector continues to show its strength as a contributor to the overall state and national economy.

In 2022, outdoor recreation in Alaska generated $2.6 billion in economic output, supported more than 20,000 jobs and accounted for 4% of the state’s economy. These statistics are buoyed by Alaska’s renowned opportunities for recreational boating and fishing, RVing, hiking and camping, hunting, ATVing, biking, recreational flying, snowmachining and other winter sports. Growth in Alaska’s outdoor recreation economy between 2021 and 2022 was second-fastest in the country (behind Hawaii) and outpaced the rate of growth of both the state and national economies. Growth in what the BEA classifies as sector-supporting activities was led by travel and tourism, reflecting growth in spending on transportation, hotels and restaurants.

Access to Alaska’s world-renowned outdoors helps recruit and retain youthful employees and their families and improve urban and rural quality of life, sustainably driving Alaska’s economy forward. Over the past decade, in communities around the state, voters have repeatedly supported investment in outdoor infrastructure that enables residents and visitors alike to experience Alaska from sea to summit. The investments deliver hearty dividends affirming that access to the outdoors isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s an essential need-to-have for the physical, mental and economic well-being of our residents and state.

Sprinkled throughout Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2025 are needed investments in state parks, trails, hunting and fishing, as well as a proposal to partner with local governments to improve service to the public by boosting winter maintenance of close-to-home sidewalks and off-street pathways to everyday destinations. All of these assets contribute to Alaska’s year-round outdoor recreation economy which is an economic multiplier. The governor’s proposed budget will help leverage federal grants and existing state resources that, in aggregate, are proven strategies for rural prosperity, thriving cities, workforce development and ecosystem health.

Lee Hart is the director of Alaska Outdoor Alliance. Steve Cleary is the executive director of Alaska Trails. Michele Stevens is the president of Alaska Snowmachine Alliance.

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