MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s Office of Outdoor Recreation released its economic report today. Produced by Headwaters Economics, an independent, bipartisan, and nonprofit research firm, Outdoor Recreation: A Top Driver of Wisconsin’s Economy details the depth and sizeable impact of the industry to Wisconsin’s economy.

“Wisconsin has long valued our vast outdoor recreation offerings, and this report leaves no doubt about the veracity, weight and importance of outdoor recreation’s economic impact in our state,” said Secretary-designee Sara Meaney. “The outdoors is consistently a top driver of tourism in Wisconsin, and while travel has taken a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor recreation has been essential to keeping communities healthy and economically viable.”

The report reiterates recent U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data showing Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation industry’s strong foundation contributes $7.8 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. Over 93,000 jobs across diverse sectors – from tourism to manufacturing to retail and the arts – are supported by outdoor recreation and contribute $3.9 million in compensation to Wisconsinites. The pace of the industry’s growth was faster than Wisconsin’s overall economy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The outdoor recreation industry is a vital part of the economy, nationwide and in Wisconsin. And as participation increases – an Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Survey found in May that 81% of Americans spent time outdoors since the onset of the pandemic, and 32.5% were participating in outdoor activities for the first time - it will be increasingly important to support the industry and its partners in our backyard,” explained Mary Monroe Brown, director of the Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreation. “That increase in participation has also resulted in record demand for outdoor gear and equipment that our Wisconsin manufacturers, retailers, and outfitters are working diligently to fulfill in order to help people experience Wisconsin’s rich outdoor recreation offerings.”

Wisconsin ranks fifth among US states for share of jobs in outdoor recreation manufacturing and is home to headquarters and manufacturing facilities of dozens of well-known outdoor brands including Bending Branches, Burger Boat Company, Harley-Davidson, Johnson Outdoors, Mercury Marine, Mathews Archery, MirroCraft Boats, Pacific-Cycle, Planet Bike, Saris, St. Croix Rods, Trek Bicycles, Vortex Optics, Wigwam, Yamaha, and more.

“St. Croix Rod is proud to call Wisconsin home. Our world-class manufacturing facility is nestled deep in the Northwoods providing access to storied fishing opportunities and instills in our work family an appreciation for our incredible outdoor recreation opportunities. Wisconsin is the ideal setting for our facility,” said Scott Forristall, CEO of St. Croix Rods based in Park Falls, WI.

Wisconsin’s diverse outdoor recreation activities bring in billions of dollars year-round.

“Silent sport enthusiasts alone inject about $14.7 million to Ashland, Bayfield, and Sawyer counties. The 4-day Birkie events draw tens of thousands to our communities in January, but those participants and fans return at other points throughout the year contributing to this major impact,” said Ben Popp, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation.

Other highlights included in the report:

  • 17 million visits annually to the Wisconsin State Park System drives more than $1 billion in spending per year.
  • Driftless Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Water Trail attracts 16,000 paddler visits per year that generate $1.2 million.
  • The 47-mile Cheese Country Trail – an ATV/UTV trail in southwest Wisconsin – attracts 98,000 visits that create more than $15 million in spending in the area.

Rounding out the report is an acknowledgement of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry.

“Even though Wisconsin’s economy was hit hard, we’ve seen positive indicators of resiliency in sectors of the outdoor recreation economy,” explained Meaney. “Outdoor recreation is in the fabric of our state and will prove to be a key driver of economic recovery for Wisconsin.”

To read the report in full and review data sources, download an electronic copy from the Department’s website here.