Human-powered outdoor recreation is a major economic engine on the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG). That's the conclusion of a new series of studies commissioned by the Outdoor Alliance and conducted by researchers from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU).
The reports, which examine the economic impact of paddling, climbing, hiking, snowsports, and mountain biking in the GMUG, shows that outdoor recreation generates $445.9 million annually for surrounding communities in western Colorado, while supporting 5,802 full-time jobs.
"The outdoor recreation resources in the GMUG inspire visitors from around the world," said Adam Cramer, Executive Director of Outdoor Alliance. "What is clear from our research is that not only do the mountains, crags, rivers and trails provide amazing outdoor adventures, they also enable a ton of economic benefit to the local communities around the GMUG. We are excited to share these powerful economic insights with the USFS as they partner with the public to create a new forest plan for the GMUG that will balance multiples uses of these public lands in a modern and sustainable way."
The studies highlight just how vital outdoor recreation is across the 3 million acres comprised by the GMUG and in western Colorado more generally. The results come as the Forest Service is updating the plans that guide the management of these forests for the next 15 to 20 years. Outdoor Alliance commissioned these studies to illustrate why human-powered recreation deserves to be a top priority for the Forest Service as it completes new management plans for the GMUG in the coming months.
The report's authors found that paddlers, climbers, hikers, skiers, and mountain bikers who visit the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forest generate more than $445.9 million in annual visitor spending. This economic activity helps support 5,802 local jobs -- yielding almost $80 million in annual income.
"The Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forest is home to some of the most spectacular mountain biking trails in the country. I live in Gunnison in part because of the access the forest provides to great rides, and these reports show how the region is benefitting from the Forest Service's work to prioritize trails and mountain bike access. IMBA has enjoyed a strong relationship with the Forest Service, and we hope these reports aid their important work in planning for the next decades of outdoor recreation and mountain biking on the GMUG," said Dave Weins, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
According to the studies' findings, the forest provides access to unparalleled outdoor recreation that attracts a diverse cross section of residents working in fields from healthcare to tech. In fact, more than 92 percent of survey respondents living in the area cite access to outdoor recreation as a key reason they settled in western Colorado.
The studies, led by Dr. James Maples and Dr. Michael Bradley of EKU, focus on five categories of outdoor recreation -- rock climbing, paddling, hiking, snowsports, and mountain biking.
The researchers found that rock climbers visit the GMUG over 35,000 times each year, spending an estimated $6.2 million, supporting 61 jobs, and $1.8 million in job income. They also determined that climbers spend an additional $5.2 million per year in the wider region as a result of their visits to the GMUG.
Paddlers visit the GMUG about 26,000 times each year, spending an estimated $4.7 million, supporting 22 jobs, and $538,000 in job income. "From the upper reaches of the Uncompahgre, to the famed Taylor Canyon, to Crested Butte's steep creeks, the GMUG's rivers attract visitors from around the country. Outdoor Alliance's Economic Impact Report estimates that GMUG visitors currently contribute an estimated $4.7 million annually to the region, and we are committed to improve access and protections for these beloved rivers through the Wild and Scenic Rivers System and ongoing forest planning efforts," said Kestrel Kunz, GMUG local and Colorado stewardship assistant for American Whitewater.
For hikers, backpackers, trail runners, and peak baggers, there were an estimated 600,000 visits per year that generate $24 million in spending, support 235 jobs, and $6 million in job income.
Snowsports visitors, including skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, winter hiking, and other winter recreation, come to the GMUG more than 1.3 million times per year, generating $333 million in spending, 3,515 jobs, and $93 million in wages each year.
Finally, the researchers found that mountain bikers visited the GMUG more than 150,000 each year, spending an estimated $24 million, supporting 315 jobs, and $7.9 million in job income.