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Outdoor Recreation Helped Buoy Wyoming’s Economy in 2020 Despite Pandemic

According to the latest numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation helped bolster the state’s economy during the pandemic, as demand for certain outdoor activities increased significantly.  

During the height of the pandemic when most indoor recreation and entertainment options were unavailable and outdoor spaces were understood to be generally safer from COVID-19, millions of people rushed to the outdoors, particularly to destinations within driving distance of their homes. 

“Many outdoor activities saw significant growth, including snowmobiling and ORV riding, which saw an increase in permit sales of over 18% and 16% respectively from 2019 to 2020.”  said Chris Floyd, Manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.  “Although the overall outdoor recreation economic impact numbers declined, most of the losses in the sector were due to limits on a few activities, such as snow skiing and outdoor events, which experienced heavy impacts due to closures and other restrictions during the pandemic.”

The total value added by outdoor recreation to the state’s GDP dropped from $1.69 billion in 2019 to $1.25 billion in 2020, with the percentage dropping from 4.2% to 3.4% of the total.  Employment in the sector saw a decrease from 21,344 to 14,187 but the percentage of total wages declined only 0.1%.

Snow activities, particularly at ski resorts, saw a decrease of 37% or $40 million in economic impact, which wiped out many gains in other recreational activities.  Equestrian activities and hunting and shooting sports also declined by 28% and 21% respectively.

Wyoming rose one spot to rank fourth nationally, however, in value added in both percentage of GDP and percentage of total wages in 2020, trailing only Hawaii, Vermont, and Montana. 

There were also increases in the economic impact of boating and fishing by a whopping 79%, bicycling by 13%, climbing/hiking/tent camping by 6%, motorcycling and ATV riding by 5%, and RV camping by 2.5%.

Many businesses reported strong sales of outdoor recreation equipment and vehicles, which would have been even higher had supply chains been able to keep up with the demand.

“Our gross sales were up over 40% in 2020 compared to 2019 and it is continuing through 21 where we have surpassed 2020 gross sales year to date,” said Mark Black, owner of Cycle City Wyoming, a powersports business in Evanston. “Our issue now is the supply chain, where the manufacturers are limiting not only quantities but models as well, and sometimes shipping incomplete units that are waiting on chips for instrument clusters. The demand has been pretty consistent and I don't see it dramatically decreasing for the near future.” 

State Parks visitation in 2020 was up 41% over 2019 and other land managers reported similar increases in use, and these high numbers helped increase economic activity statewide as other economic sectors saw declines during the pandemic.  

Next year’s BEA report is likely to show that outdoor recreation activities played a strong role in the state’s economic rebound, particularly since most closures and travel restrictions were eased or lifted this year.  

For more information and to view the entire 2020 report, please visit https://www.bea.gov/data/special-topics/outdoor-recreation.