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Pennsylvanians With a Vested Interest in Outdoor Recreation See Value in Partnerships, Efforts to Grow

April 05, 2023 12:00 AM

York Heritage Rail Trail in Glen Rock

​Outdoor recreation is more than just a walk in the woods or a bike ride on a trail. It is an industry, a sector of our economy, and a critical ingredient in the Pennsylvania’s prosperity.

It added $14 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy in 2021, improves our communities, makes us healthier, and helps the environment. It creates 152,000 jobs and hundreds of businesses in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has the sixth largest outdoor recreation economy in the nation, supported by a combination of:

  • The Commonwealth’s exceptional recreational assets
  • An economy that is generally diverse in sources of revenue
  • Active outdoor recreation participation by Pennsylvania residents
  • Strong retail, manufacturing, and tourism sectors.

While these numbers may sound impressive, the real impact is seen in communities (both rural and urban) where:

  • Small businesses are popping up along trails and rivers
  • Large businesses are locating to keep their employees happy
  • Remote workers are relocating for high-quality of life.

Because of the importance of these community connections, Pennsylvania’s Director of Outdoor Recreation is hosting a series of stakeholder meetings to connect with businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and others with a vested interest in the outdoors to talk about how to maximize the hidden value outdoor recreation has within the Commonwealth.

Input from these meetings will be used to define the mission and priorities of Pennsylvania’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, which will connect multiple diverse state agencies (Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, Community and Economic Development, Health, and Transportation) to grow our outdoor industry, activate outdoor recreation for community and economic development, and improve the wellbeing of that all Pennsylvanians.

Outdoor Recreation Important to York County

One example of how the outdoor recreation industry is helping local communities is in York County, where the first of the statewide stakeholder meetings was held.

In June 2020, the York County Economic Alliance launched the York County Trails Town program to leverage the York Heritage Rail Trail as a platform and driver for economic development in towns located along or near the popular multi-use trail.

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Silas Chamberlin

At the March 29 at stakeholder meeting in York College’s Center for Community Engagement in York County, Silas Chamberlin, York County Economic Alliance Chief Strategy Officer and Vice President of Economic and Community Development, said, “In York County, the outdoor recreation sector employs more than 5,000 people, which is more than financial planning, banking and insurance combined, so it is a huge sector for us, and it is growing by 14 percent each year.”

“When I think of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, I see it as taking this thing that is already successful and fully leveraging it and providing the resources, so that it is thriving even more in 10 years.”

The excitement and opportunity to maximize outdoor recreation growth was felt among other participants, including:

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Ashley Zimmerman

“I am having a moment of gratitude because of the support we’ve received here in York County.“

“My biggest takeaway is that the collaboration and the partnerships are what really empowers everyone to do something better for the community to have that economic impact, while also creating new programming and experiences for residents and visitors alike,” said Ashley Zimmerman, Director of Development and Sustainability for Northern Central Railway of York.

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Joanne Wilmore

”From the perspective of being an African-American business owner in the tourism and hospitality industry, it is really important to have marketing to specific groups that have been historically marginalized in outdoor spaces to create more welcoming environments.”

”Having intentional marketing and wayfinding signs that direct outdoor recreation travelers to local businesses is critical to maximizing the opportunity for economic development, especially for small businesses,” said Joanne Wilmore, Owner Grace Manor Bed and Breakfast.

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Joe Hackett

“We believe that the outdoor recreation space is going to be an important economic driver in the state of Pennsylvania, and we want to support with innovation and technology in this space,” said Joe Hackett, Regional Director for Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners.

Stakeholder Meetings Continue Through April

Many more Pennsylvanians will be able to share their thoughts about growing Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation economy at other upcoming statewide stakeholder meetings, including:

  • Wednesday, April 5 -- John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia
  • Thursday, April 6 -- Nurture Nature Center in Easton
  • Tuesday, April 11 -- Conewango Club in Warren
  • Wednesday, April 12 -- Lycoming College in Williamsport
  • Thursday, April 13 -- Montage Mountain in Scranton
  • Tuesday, April 25 -- Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh
  • Wednesday, April 26 -- Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in Johnstown
  • Thursday, April 27 at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park in Erie

If you are interested in attending one of these upcoming meetings, please contact Pennsylvania’s Director of Outdoor Recreation.

Highlighting the Role of Outdoor Recreation and Opportunities Continue

In addition to the stakeholder meetings, Pennsylvania’s Director of Outdoor Recreation Nathan Reigner recently hosted a webinar to discuss opportunities for the growing the Commonwealth’s outdoor recreation workforce and strengthening economic opportunities for Pennsylvania residents.

“A skilled and competitive workforce is the backbone of Pennsylvania’s $14 billion outdoor industry,” Reigner said. “We talked with 10 Pennsylvanians about how their highly diversified work transforms outdoor recreation into a powerful, and pleasant, force for community and economic development. Their work in our great outdoors creates one of the most valuable assets we have to retain our youth and attract new residents to Pennsylvania.”

Work also continues to outline priorities to grow the outdoor recreation sector in Pennsylvania through a Recreation Engagement Coalition.

Additional information about efforts to grow Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation economy can be found at the DCNR website.

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