Montana relies on outdoor recreation, new report says

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Montana's economy is propped up on local and tourist outdoor recreational activities, according to a recent report from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that shows the industry accounted for 5.1% of the state's gross domestic product in 2017.

Montana came in second behind Hawaii, where 5.4% of the state's GDP in 2017 came from outdoor recreation activities. Third is Maine at 4.8%, followed closely by Vermont at 4.5%.

The numbers come from the bureau's Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account — a method used for measuring the overall economic activity and sales or receipts of outdoor recreational activities. The data is referred to as “value added by activity statistics,” which is further defined as consisting of “the value of outdoor recreation goods and services produced, less the value of expenses incurred for their production.”

In total, the outdoor recreation industry added $427 billion to the nation's GDP in 2017.

The activities measured are broken into three primary categories: “conventional core activities” including camping and hiking, other “core activities” such as gardening and outdoor concerts and “supporting activities” such as travel and tourism.

Of these, supporting activities accounted for about 50% of the outdoor recreation economy nationwide in 2017 while conventional outdoor recreation accounted for about 31% and other recreation about 19%.

As a state, Montana follows national trends.

Total outdoor recreation value added by the Big Sky State in 2017 sat at about $2.4 billion, according to the report. Over $1 billion of that came from “supporting outdoor recreation.” That figure is followed by “conventional outdoor recreation activities” at about $750 million.

Of the value added by conventional outdoor recreation activities, boating and fishing made up the lion's share, followed by RV travel/camping. Snow recreation also made up a large portion of added value from Montana.

Snow recreation gave a visible boost to other popular ski and snowboard destinations such as Wyoming, Utah and Colorado — three states the report shows are also heavily reliant on outdoor recreational activities.


The bureau's report lines up with financial findings from a report by Headwaters Economics released in October 2018 highlighting the role of Montana's outdoor recreation economy in spending, jobs and economic diversification.

The report describes outdoor recreation as an “economic powerhouse” for the state. It elaborates, “for many Montana communities, access to year-round outdoor recreation in our shared public lands and water is an essential component of long-term economic development and community identity.”

The report found outdoor recreation brought in $7.1 billion in consumer spending and created 71,000 jobs in Montana.

Numerous studies on areas throughout the Flathead Valley, especially in Whitefish and Glacier National Park, have pinned the industry as one of the most significant economic drivers in Northwest Montana.

One report, also released by Headwaters Economics in 2018, states “outdoor recreation is the most important reason why visitors come to Whitefish and why locals stay in the community.” It continues, stating the industry “is 65 percent of visitors' primary purpose for visiting the area.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or

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