Outdoor recreation is popular in Connecticut, but enthusiasts aren’t spending much, US statistics say

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Perhaps it’s the state parks that are available for free or Connecticut’s cramped geography, but whatever the reason, residents and visitors didn’t spend much money last year on outdoor recreation.

The outdoor recreation economy in Connecticut accounted for 1.3% of the state’s economy in 2019, last in the nation, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Leading the way were boating and fishing and golf and tennis.

Not surprisingly, Hawaii with its abundant beaches and verdant forests was No. 1, accounting for 5.8% of its economy.

Outdoor recreation includes conventional activities such as bicycling, boating, hiking and hunting; gardening and outdoor concerts; and travel and tourism, local trips and government spending.

Connecticut’s outdoor recreation value last year was about $3.7 billion. For the U.S., it was nearly $460 billion.

Northern New England — Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont — posted greater shares of New England’s economy spent on outdoor recreation, particularly snow-related activities such as skiing in Vermont.

Western states such as Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming with their vistas, canyons and popular national parks accounted for the highest shares of the outdoor recreation economy. So did Florida, a major tourist destination.

The spread of COVID-19 has prompted a boom in outdoor activities in response to stay-at-home orders.

“The BEA release of economic data comes at a time when the health and wellness benefits of recreation cannot be overstated,” the Outdoor Industry Association said. “People want to get outside for their physical and mental health.”

The crush of people in parks, hiking trails and other outdoor places could be creating problems.

“We remain troubled by the evidence that popular outdoor locations continue to suffer from overcrowding by visitors, defeating the purpose of physical distancing protocols meant to minimize coronavirus-related health risks,” the Connecticut Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club says.

Stress on state and federal recreation areas in the Northeast “may have consequences far outlasting the current quarantine,” the club says. It recommends limited outdoor activities such as brief outings.

Trails and grounds of Connecticut’s state parks and forests are open for solitary recreation, not group activities, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says.

Growth in the outdoor recreation economy was slower last year than the overall economy: up 1.3% increase vs. 2.2% growth of the U.S. economy.

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com.


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