PA Wilds region positioned well to leverage the growing outdoor recreation economy

PA Wilds region positioned well to leverage the growing outdoor recreation economy

Pennsylvania’s strong outdoor recreation economy has continued to grow, with new statistics proving that the public lands and related outdoor opportunities are a boon to not just health and leisure, but also contribute to the economic competitiveness of the commonwealth and the wages of Pennsylvanian families. This is certainly true in the Pennsylvania Wilds region, home to the greatest concentration of public land in the Commonwealth – including more than 2 million acres.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’s Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account recently released 2022 data for the industry. It revealed that outdoor recreation contributed $17 billion to Pennsylvania’s gross domestic product (GDP) last year. This is approximately 2% of the Commonwealth’s overall economy. That’s an increase of more than 12 percent from 2021. It makes Pennsylvania the eighth largest state outdoor industry in the country.

Outdoor recreation is seeing more than just a temporary increase from COVID-19. In fact, the growth of outdoor recreation continues even after pandemic restrictions have been lifted. The value added to PA’s economy by the outdoor recreation industry was $12 billion in 2020, $14 billion in 2021, and now $17 billion in 2022. The number of outdoor recreation-based jobs in PA also grew from 133,000 in 2020 to 153,000 in 2021, and reached up to 164,000 in 2022 (more than a seven percent increase from 2021 to 2022), and these numbers exclude business owners and independent contractors.

The 13-county PA Wilds region is one of the largest blocks of green space between New York City and Chicago. In addition to being home to more than 2 million acres of public land, the region boasts the largest wild elk herd in the northeast, the state’s only national forest and internationally certified Dark Sky park, two nationally recognized Wild and Scenic Rivers, and more than 16,000 miles of waterways perfect for paddling and fishing. These outdoor amenities helped to draw in more than 8 million day visitors and 5 million overnight visitors in 2022, according to the 2021 Economic Impact of Travel and Tourism in Pennsylvania report produced by Tourism Economics. That is 10.2 and 16.3 times the region’s population respectively, and it translates to real dollars spent in rural communities and supports family-sustaining jobs.

The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship leverages the region’s outdoor recreation opportunities and looks to support the sector’s continued growth to benefit local entrepreneurs and communities as a whole, as part of its mission of integrating conservation and economic development in a way that strengthens and inspires communities in the PA Wilds.

“Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic driver, especially for the rural Pennsylvania Wilds region,” said Ta Enos, founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship. “Rural entrepreneurs can tie into the tourism that outdoor recreation brings. We work with many creative makers and artisans who create inspired products for visitor markets. Small businesses such as outfitters, restaurants, breweries, bed and breakfasts, hotels, and other hospitality companies benefit directly from travelers who come to explore our region and spend locally on products and services. Outdoor gear and equipment are designed and manufactured in the PA Wilds. Recreation and small business amenities benefit local residents, too, while helping major employers in our region attract and retain the talent they need by making our communities more vibrant and livable. This sector has a lot of multipliers.” 

The growth of the outdoor recreation economy in Pennsylvania has not gone unnoticed by regional and national entities. In 2023, the PA Wilds Center was awarded a $972,000 Area Development grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Among other things, the three-year investment will help the PA Wilds Center stand up its next two PA Wilds Conservation Shops, which are mission-driven gift shops that improve market access for rural entrepreneurs by sourcing 90 percent of their inventory from rural makers and businesses in the PA Wilds and intentionally passing foot traffic to area businesses, visitor bureaus, and other attractions. These two shops – one in Forest County along the Knox and Kane Rail Trail and the other at Leonard Harrison State Park at the PA Grand Canyon – are both set in prime locations that see high outdoor recreation-based traffic. 

In addition to the shops that are tied to outdoor assets directly, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and communities in the PA Wilds are able to join the Wilds Cooperative of PA network for free to be promoted as part of the regional outdoor recreation destination at This not only helps the participating Cooperative members, but it supports visitors looking for unique experiences that complement the outdoor activities they pursue while in the region.

PA Director of Outdoor Recreation, Nathan Reigner, speaks about how programs like the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship’s Wilds Are Working initiative highlights Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation assets.

The Commonwealth itself has also made new investments that build off of the growth of outdoor recreation. During 2022, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania established the position of Director of Outdoor Recreation within the office of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary. Dr. Nathan Reigner’s role is to expand and ensure the benefits of outdoor recreation for all Pennsylvanians.

Reigner serves as a liaison among industry, non-governmental organizations, recreation asset users, and government partners to communicate the significance of outdoor recreation; address needs for systematic support and investment in outdoor recreation; and welcome all residents of and visitors to Pennsylvania to enjoy and benefit from the Commonwealth’s diverse and exceptional outdoor experiences.

Governor Josh Shapiro launched the Office of Outdoor Recreation in 2023, with the promise to make Pennsylvania the national leader in outdoor recreation. A 32-page Growing Outdoor Recreation Report was recently released, which includes feedback from stakeholders, outdoor recreationists, and the departments of Community and Economic Development, Health, and Transportation. The more than 50 actions listed in the report will assist with the larger strategic priorities of building capacity within Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation industry, building community and economic development capacity, and building the capacity for inclusive and equitable wellbeing for Pennsylvania.

Following nationwide growing momentum in the outdoor recreation industry, Pennsylvania’s new Office of Outdoor Recreation became the 20th State Office of Outdoor Recreation (OREC) created across the United States. Pennsylvania is the largest state by the size of both its economy and population to take this bold and transformative step.

Reigner points out that an outdoor recreation economy is actually three-fold: the outdoor industry that generates direct economic impacts, the contribution to broad-based economic prosperity and community wellbeing made by outdoor recreation, and the costs for both healthcare and gray infrastructure that investments in the outdoors can save.

“Outdoor recreation is more than a good time outside with our friends and family – it is an industry in Pennsylvania and a critical contributor to economic development, particularly for our rural communities. One in every 50 dollars made in the Commonwealth is a direct and exclusive product of outdoor recreation,” said Reigner. “But beyond what it does for our bottom lines, outdoor recreation is critical to transforming our communities into competitive and attractive where young Pennsylvanians want to stay and new Pennsylvanians want to move. It is in the outdoors where all members of our communities connect and become their best selves.” 

As statewide and regional investments continue to support and uplift the outdoor recreation economy, the growth and power of outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania is expected to continue.

For more information about 2022 statistics, visit the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’s Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account website. To read more about how the PA Wilds Center celebrates the launch of PA’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, click here.



The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 13-county region that includes the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and northern Centre. The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to integrate conservation and economic development in a way that inspires the communities of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The PA Wilds Center promotes the region and its 2+ million acres of public lands as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to diversify local economies, inspire stewardship, attract investment, retain population and improve quality of life. The PA Wilds Center’s core programs seek to help businesses leverage the PA Wilds brand and connect with new market opportunities, including: the Wilds Cooperative of PA, a network of more than 575 place-based businesses and organizations, and the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, a retail outlet primarily featuring products sourced from the WCO. For more information on the PA Wilds Center, visit To learn more about the WCO, visit Explore the PA Wilds at Find regionally made products at


Media Contact

Britt Madera | Communications Manager

PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc.

[email protected] | 570-948-1051

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