Gov. Janet Mills speaks at an event celebrating and cultivating Maine’s outdoor recreation economy on Friday. “We are people who have been seeking wonder in the wild for generations,” she said.   Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

FREEPORT — While Maine’s outdoor recreation economy continues to be a boon for the state, national participation in outdoor recreation is not advancing the way industry leaders would like to see, according to Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association.

Currently, only about 50% of people say they participate in outdoor recreation at least once per year, she said during a panel discussion, which means that half the population do not participate at all. Only 20% of people say that participate at least once per week, which, especially as it relates to children, is troubling, she said. 

Rojas-Ungar joined Gov. Janet Mills; Shawn Gorman, executive chairman of the L.L. Bean Board of Directors; Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation; and other industry leaders Friday afternoon to discuss the state of Maine’s outdoor recreation economy.

Healthcare plans and the cost of medical care are a primary concern for many Americans, Rojas-Ungar said, but a great deal of money is spent to treat chronic illnesses created or compounded by inactivity. 

For healthier communities, states, municipalities and even retailers should work to promote outdoor recreation and Maine’s natural resources, she and others argued.

Plus, our natural resources will help bring more businesses into Maine, Stephen Smith, L.L. Bean president said

Outdoor recreation generates 4.8% of Maine’s economy, more than double the national average, ranking behind only Montana and Hawaii for the value outdoor recreation provides the state’s economy, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Outdoor recreation accounts for 6.4% of employment and supports more than 40,000 Maine jobs. The industry contributes $3 billion to Maine’s economy, $328 million of which is accounted for in the manufacturing of outdoor recreation goods alone. 

According to Headwaters Economics, boating and fishing add the most value to the economy, at an estimated $266 million, followed by $187 million from the purchase of apparel and accessories, $147 million from RVing and $80 million from snow activities. 

The outdoors play a central role in the state’s heritage and identity as well as its economy, Mills said, adding, “we are people who have been seeking wonder in the wild for generations.” 

The “cascade effect” of recreation is also substantial, she said, with activities like hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating and some sports continuing about $209 billion in added value to the state’s economy. 

Investments in outdoor recreation infrastructure programming may “significantly improve educational outcomes for students of all ages,” she said. “They can lower public health costs by reducing stress and obesity and it can improve physical fitness and strengthen bonds among family and friends. Maine’s outdoor recreation industry creates jobs that strengthen our economy and inspires us all to lead healthier lives,” she said, adding that the industry is poised for significant growth. 

Last month, Mills signed the Outdoor Recreation Confluence Accords, a “bipartisan organization developing a national platform to grow the outdoor recreation industry, protect our nation’s wild places and transform conservation into a driver for economic prosperity,” according to the accords website. “We are proving the great outdoors are our greatest resource.” 

Maine joined Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada Vermont and Virginia in promising to uphold and promote the core principles of conservation and stewardship, education and workforce training, economic development and public health and wellness. 


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