REPRINTED FROM THE GAZETTE:
Long considered a nice backdrop, the area’s outdoors is now bringing in the green.
During its second annual State of the Outdoors event, the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance revealed that locals spend $2.14 billion every year on their activities on trails, open spaces and waters. That’s according to the Outdoor Industry Association report that will be released in its entirety next month, showing spending across the nation’s congressional districts.
The 5th Congressional District, including Colorado Springs, is “an economic powerhouse” for outdoor recreation, said Alex Boian, the association’s vice president of government affairs. “Really, one of the strongest outdoor recreation economies in the entire country.”
In an economy better known for the military, Boian said many might forget the number of servicemen and women, both active and retired, who love the mountains. Local interest in outdoor recreation is likely in line with the 71 percent of Coloradans who participate, the Outdoor Industry Association found, based on an independent firm’s survey of 1,100 people.
“These numbers tell me A, it’s not being paid attention to close enough and B, it’s an underutilized resource,” Luis Benitez, head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said after Thursday night’s gathering of outfitters and nonprofits in City Auditorium. “With everything that’s unique around this region, the numbers are a clear indicator there’s more to do.”
He used the example of the Ring the Peak Trail, designated by Gov. John Hickenlooper two years ago as a high-profile project to finish. The loop around America's Mountain is mired in land disputes, but, Benitez said, maybe advocates can make a stronger push with the economic evidence released Thursday.
The Outdoor Industry Association's upcoming district-by-district report will be the most comprehensive yet from the trade group, which continues to demand attention of lawmakers. Outdoor recreation was first recognized in the nation's growth domestic report in 2016 as a $375 billion engine. The Centennial State is a mighty contributor to that, boasting an industry that generates $28 billion in consumer spending every year and creates 229,000 jobs.
Local data could serve as another political tool for the industry, Boian said. The report will come as the association lobbies for the reauthorization of lottery funds to Great Outdoors Colorado, which distributes tens of millions of dollars around the state for initiatives such as Ring the Peak.
Speakers Thursday, including Mayor John Suthers, credited the outdoors for the Springs' nation-leading rise in millennial residents and the population projected to surpass Denver in 2045.
"The state of the outdoors is most definitely strong," Suthers said, "and it's our job to keep it that way."
That will be from a city government that better funds its parks department and a federal government that better funds the U.S. Forest Service, said David Leinweber with the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance. The nonprofit on Thursday launched a website, pikespeakoutdoors.org, aimed at promoting volunteer opportunities and lesser known places.
"The primary goal is to spread people out so we're not all focused on a few trails or a few areas, so that we can actually broaden our reach," Leinweber said.