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Sports >  Outdoors

Report: National Forest visitors spent roughly $290 million in Washington communities

In this Oct. 8, 2016 photo, a group of new mushroom hunters scour national forest land near Skykomish, Wash., for chanterelle mushrooms. (AP)
In this Oct. 8, 2016 photo, a group of new mushroom hunters scour national forest land near Skykomish, Wash., for chanterelle mushrooms. (AP)

Visitors to Washington State National Forests spent roughly $290 million in nearby communities and supported 2,130 year-round jobs in 2016, according to a new report.

The report, which analyzed the spending habits of National Forests visitors, highlights what many have known for a long time: recreation accounts for an important chunk of economic activity.

“Oftentimes we think about outdoor recreation in terms of fun and adventure,” said Stephen Baker, a spokesman for the Forest Service’s pacific northwest region. “But there are other benefits that don’t get much attention such as health and economic benefits.”

However, there was an even more surprising finding from the report said Eric White, the report’s author. The amount of money that individuals and families spend while traveling to National Forests remains steady year to year.

“We’ve really concluded that it’s very stable over time once you account for inflation,” he said.

The National Forest Service has been surveying users about spending habits since 2000.

Steady spending is good news for communities near National Forests, many of which are rural. Restaurants, hotels and guiding services can expect a relatively steady flow of out-of-town dollars.

That sort of information is increasingly important for the Forest Service as it continues to rely more and more heavily on partnerships with volunteers, organizations and local communities, said Baker.

“As budgets get tighter we’re seeing that more and more of the work we accomplish is done in partnership with volunteers, partners and local communities,” Baker said.

Being able to show communities that they benefit from the partnership is key, Baker said.

“Understanding the patterns and how people spend money during recreation provides a road map for making stronger connections between Forest Service recreation and local economies,” White said.

Additionally, the amount of money people spent in local communities didn’t change much with the kind of activities they were doing. Instead how many days the visitors stayed determined how much money they did or didn’t spend, White said.

That could mean that instead of solely “managing recreation for activities” the Forest Service might be well served by trying to entice people into staying longer. One exception was downhill skiing. That activity accounted for more economic activity.

“One of the key factors, if our goal is to try and create more economic activity, is to try and get people to spend more time in an area,” he said.

Other information contained in the report:

  • 6.3 million annual visits to Washington’s National Forests
  • Roughly 50 percent of those visitors lived within 50 miles of the National Forest.
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