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New Study Reveals Importance of Public Lands Recreation to NC Economy

Posted: 10/05/2017
by Kevin Colburn

If you’re one of the 4.6 million people who visit the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests each year, you already know how incredible this corner of the Southern Appalachians is. No matter your preferred form of adventure, you know the Nantahala-Pisgah offers access to unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities — access and opportunity that’s hard to put a price on. But now a series of new economic studies, commissioned by Outdoor Alliance, does just that.

The studies' authors found that paddlers, climbers, and mountain bikers who visit the Nantahala-Pisgah's rivers, peaks, and trails generate more than $83 million in economic impact annually. The researchers also identified nearly $32 million in annual spending by local residents on human-powered outdoor recreation in the two national forests. This combined economic activity helps support more than 1,000 full-time jobs - yielding almost $14 million in annual income - above and beyond visitor and resident spending. It also makes Western North Carolina a magnet for outdoor gear manufacturing companies, 27 of whom call the region home.

The paddling study concluded that visiting non-commercial paddlers spend an estimated $3.2 million across seven rivers, while commercial paddlers account for an estimated $36 million annually across three rivers. They found that non-commercial paddling tourism supports 35 full-time jobs and $827,000 in job income whereas commercial paddling supports over 400 full-time jobs and $10 million in job income. Many whitewater equipment companies call the region home, and over 95% of paddlers choose to live in the area at least in part because of the paddling opportunities.

Paddlers' choice of where we live, and our spending when we travel can act like drip irrigation for regions like WNC, nourishing local economies without overwhelming them. This is not lost on local leaders: for example some counties track sales tax and hotel occupancy around recreational dam releases and then work to enhance their benefits. 

American Whitewater has been working closely with mountain bikers (IMBA/SORBA), climbers (Access Fund), horseback riders, and many other groups over the past 4 years to help the Forest Service draft a new management plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests. Our goal has been to protect and enhance the region's outstanding recreational opportunities and special places, while striving to support other interests through win-win solutions. We've made great strides and we are confident that the 1.1 million acre National Forest will continue to generate good times and dollars for generations to come.

We'd like to thank all the regional paddlers who filled out a survey for these studies!