New tool to help rural communities build outdoor recreation economies highlights regional PA Wilds strategy
A new toolkit has been developed and released nationally to help rural communities grow their outdoor recreation industries.
Developed by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) in partnership with Oregon State University’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Initiative and the National Governors Association Outdoor Recreation Learning Network, the toolkit compiles best practices from interviews with dozens of practitioners across the county. The PA Wilds region is featured in the report.
“Over the last fifteen years, there has been a coordinated effort by local, state and federal partners from the public and private sectors to grow nature and heritage tourism in our 13-county region under the PA Wilds brand as a way to help diversify local economies, create jobs, inspire stewardship and improve quality of life,” says Ta Enos, Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center, the nonprofit that helps coordinate the regional strategy in partnership with PA DCNR, PA DCED, county governments and many local nonprofits and businesses. “The collaborative effort to grow the region’s outdoor rec industry is multifaceted and includes side-by-side investments over many years in small business development, community character stewardship, regional branding and marketing, and recreation infrastructure upgrades.
“In 2018, the Pennsylvania Wilds region saw another record-breaking year in visitor spending with $1.8 billion infused into the regional economy by travelers. The region has also seen double-digit growth in visitor spending in every county over the last decade. This regional strategy is working, and it is being recognized more and more as a national model. We’re proud of the work we’re doing on our rural landscape and to be featured in this important guide for rural communities of all shapes and sizes. We believe this toolkit developed by ORR will help many communities and regions understand how to leverage their outdoor resources in a way that can create long-lasting economic benefit,” Enos said. “I know we’ve learned a lot by reading it and seeing how other regions are approaching things. There is no cookie-cutter method to this kind of development. The peer-to-peer lessons are so valuable. We encourage all our communities in the PA Wilds to check it out.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy in the United States is an $887 billion industry that comes in closely behind industries such as hospital care, outpatient healthcare, and financial services/insurance. And it’s a growing industry.
As gateways to treasured land and water resources, a huge economic opportunity exists for rural communities that have seen decades of divestment, population decline and shrinking tax bases.
Over 60 ORR stakeholders contributed to the toolkit, which can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF and contains videos, resource links and actionable steps communities can take to grow their outdoor industry.
“We are excited to get the Rural Economic Development Toolkit up, running and out to the states and rural communities as the go-to resource to expand local outdoor recreation economies,” said Lindsey Davis, acting executive director of ORR. “It may seem simple for communities to build outdoor recreation economies but there are a ton of factors rural communities struggle with when attempting to broaden their communities’ economies, from bandwidth and monetary resources to messaging and public perceptions. This toolkit will be the resource to help communities navigate those challenges and be successful.”
THE ORR RURAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TOOLKIT
- provides state and local officials, as well as rural community members information on 15 best practices for developing an outdoor recreation economy
- outlines challenges rural communities could face as they take the steps to build their outdoor recreation economy – including limited staff, administrative bandwidth and funding challenges
- discusses how to tackle misperceptions about outdoor recreation being simply about increasing tourism and dealing with cultural and infrastructure changes that occur when shifting reliance from just one economic driver to multiple
- lists valuable resources to help communities build up their outdoor recreation economies, including federal grants and technical assistance resources for implementing plans
ABOUT THE PA WILDS
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 as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to diversify local economies and improve quality of life. The PA Wilds Center’s two core programs seek to help businesses leverage the PA Wilds brand and connect with new market opportunities: the Wilds Cooperative of PA, a network of over 300 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 www.PAWildsCenter.org. To learn more about the WCO, visit www.WildsCoPA.org. Explore the PA Wilds at www.pawilds.com.
LaKeshia Knarr, PA Wilds Center Communications Director
[email protected] | 570-295-9014