Measuring the impact of Colorado's great outdoors

Outdoor recreation has always been part of who we are in Colorado. It's a pillar of our local communities and Western heritage, and draws people from all over the world to enjoy our beautiful state and its great outdoors. Whether it's taking to the mountains to hike or mountain bike, fishing or rafting in Colorado waters, hitting the slopes for skiing and snowboarding, or even horseback riding on the Eastern Plains, there's more outdoor recreation activities than this paper has room to print. There's an outdoor activity for everyone in every corner of Colorado, all year-round.

But until recently, the federal government did not study the economic impact of outdoor recreation. That changed when President Obama signed the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act or "Outdoor REC Act" in 2016, authored by myself and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic colleague from New Hampshire. This bipartisan legislation required the federal government to finally recognize outdoor recreation as a key portion of the national economy and compile state-by-state data.

In September, the government released the findings of its first-ever state-level measurements of outdoor recreation's economic impact. Now we can prove outdoor recreation isn't just good for our physical and mental health, but our state's economy as well. We now have, for the first time ever, quantifiable proof that outdoor recreation is an $11 billion share of the economy in Colorado. The industry makes up 3.3% of our gross domestic product and is responsible for 5.3% of all jobs in the Centennial State. Nationally, outdoor recreation is growing faster than the United States economy and contributes $427 billion to our country's gross domestic product.

This information delivers the much-needed insight to enable lawmakers to make informed decisions when crafting policy. The industry is now rightfully recognized for the economic powerhouse it is, bolstering the argument for preserving and maintaining our state's majestic public lands and national parks — another tool in the toolbox to ensure we are passing on our lands to the next generation better than they were passed on to us.

This is already having a real impact right here in Colorado. Ski areas have gone through a transformation in recent years, and many now have plans in place to provide recreation opportunities year-round. I introduced the Ski Area Fee Retention Act with Sen. Michael Bennet to assist them in this endeavor — many ski areas on federal land produce large amounts of rental payments to the federal government but do not see all of the benefit of those funds return back to the forest for planning purposes. The White River National Forest in Colorado, home to some world-class ski resorts, is the most visited national forest in the country. Many of those resorts need the Forest Service to have the capability of timely processing the environmental evaluations required to upkeep infrastructure for both growing recreational purposes and for safety. My legislation will allow them to do that.

Growing up in rural Colorado, I have a deep appreciation for outdoor recreation and know it has always been an essential part of Colorado's livelihood. Now, thanks to the Outdoor REC Act, we finally know exactly how great the impact is — and we're more prepared to ensure future generations can enjoy Colorado's great outdoors.


U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO)

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel