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Outdoor recreation boosts Minnesota’s economy

The long-term conservation and upkeep of our waterways and ensuring boaters are practicing safe and responsible boating, is not only for boater’s continued enjoyment, but for the larger economy it helps drive.

Bass Lake, near Cohasset
Bass Lake, near Cohasset

With boats winterized and put away for the next months, many boaters are spending the offseason preparing for next summer by planning trips and buying new boat accessories. As we look ahead to next year, it’s worth looking back to reflect on how important the recreational economy is to Minnesota.

Whether on the water, shoreline or out deep in the forests, outdoor recreation is larger than a weekend fishing trip or sunset cruise. The outdoor recreation industry makes up a substantial portion of state and national economies, channeling money into additional industries such as retail, hospitality, tourism and even real estate.

Minnesota has the second highest number of registered boats in the nation. Communities surrounding popular lakes like Lake Superior, Lake Minnetonka and Big Sand Lake may feel the impacts first, but the entire state benefits from waterside recreation. Recently released data help tell this story.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis released its annual report on the state of our outdoor recreation economy. According to the report, the outdoor recreation economy saw a record-breaking year in 2021, generating $862 billion in economic output, accounting for 1.9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Boating and fishing continues to be the number one contributor to the nearly trillion dollar outdoor recreation economy and is the largest outdoor recreational activity in 27 states, including the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

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As one of the largest marine dealerships in the state, I am encouraged that boating businesses like mine are a key contributor the number one contributor to the outdoor recreation economy. Growing up, I spent summers boating on the Mississippi and Lake Pepin. Now, it’s my joy and privilege to help others get out on the water – while still ensuring our waterways maintain their natural ecosystems and beauty, and that the recreation we support is enjoyable for all who partake.

Dealers like myself are grateful for Gov. Tim Walz’s support of the recent legislation aimed at investing in fish hatcheries and repairing boat access across the state. Investments such as these are important to ensuring that boating and fishing remains popular and accessible to all Minnesotans.

Outdoor recreation means something different to everyone.  That is why it’s important to have a space where local governments, businesses and communities can come together in support of the outdoor recreation economy, much like the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Task Force. Made up of 21 members from across the recreation space in multiple sectors, the task force is charged with bringing measured growth, increased and equitable access, and a higher quality of outdoor recreation to Minnesotans and visitors. Last year, the task force recommended the formal establishment of an Office of Outdoor Recreation (OREC). If formed, Minnesota would join 16 states who have already established an OREC. When outdoor recreation flourishes, other industries do as well.

Considering recreational boating and fishing drives the state’s outdoor recreation economy, employing over 10,000 local Minnesotans in the marine space and supporting nearly 700 businesses like my own, it would behoove our lawmakers to invest in up to date, resilient infrastructure including boat ramps and public launches, fish hatcheries, and to prioritize boater education and safety. Manufacturers, dealers, boaters, and the greater recreational community have a longstanding history of proactively supporting boater education efforts and the adoption of widespread safety measures. It has always been in the industry’s best interest to ensure the wellbeing and enjoyment of all participants on the water. Without these important measures, boating cannot thrive.

Boating and other outdoor recreation activities bring people together to enjoy the many great offerings in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It is our responsibility to make sure future generations have the same opportunity.

John Wooden is the owner of River Valley Power and Sport.