Water conservationists and outdoor recreation proponents in Colorado got a blast of wind in their campaign sails recently, thanks to a new study that finds Colorado’s waterways support over 100,000 jobs and billions in tax revenue across the state.

The study, released by BusinessforWaterStewardship, found that water-related outdoor recreation in the Centennial State produces $18.8 billion in economic output and contributes $10.3 billion to the state gross domestic product.

“The access to outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy for Business for Water Stewardship. “But it’s not only about the quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state’s economy, and our waterways are an essential economic engine. Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business.”

The study, conducted by Southwick Associates, presents economic contributions based on estimated retail spending attributable to time on or along the water engaging in one of nine target activities — trail sports, camping, picnicking or relaxing, water sports, wildlife-watching, fishing, snow sports, bicycling or skateboarding and hunting.

Trail sports was the most popular activity with 2.7 million participants, followed by camping with 2 million. In terms of the total number of days spent participating, wildlife watching was the highest with 15.4 million days followed by trail sports with 15.1 million and water sports with just under 15 million days.

The study was held across nine river basins — Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, San Juan/Dolores/San Miguel, South Platte, Yampa/White /Green — of which Colorado alone generates $3.8 billion in economic output annually and supports 26,768 jobs.

The study further found 6.7 million people participate in water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado annually; and water-related recreation supports over 131,000 jobs around the state that provide $6.3 billion in household income and generate an estimated $2.7 billion in tax revenue.

All this bodes well for those lobbying for outdoor recreation in the state. “These figures are staggering, but not surprising,” said David Dragoo, founder of Montrose-based Mayfly Outdoors. “It’s critically important to promote the outdoor industry’s importance to Colorado’s economy and our way of life. At Mayfly, we see the impact that recreation and engagement has on our community and across the state. It’s part of our job to help ensure our communities can access and enjoy our rivers and waterways. And protecting river resources is even more important than ever as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

BWS has partnered with the Outdoor Industry Association to promote the need to protect Colorado’s waterways. “Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver in the state and Colorado is home to many outdoor businesses and our industry’s largest gathering, Outdoor Retailer,” said OIA Executive Director Lise Aaangeenbrug. “While we couldn’t gather as an industry this summer in Denver, watching the growth of people going outdoors during the pandemic and the release of this important data gives the industry great hope for the future. Protecting our state’s public lands and waterways is more important than ever to provide places to go outside.”

Even the state’s municipalities are moved by the findings. “This study shows how much our state’s economy depends on preserving our rivers,” said Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “We know that our great outdoors, including Colorado’s beautiful rivers, is a huge part of what makes our state such a great place to call home, drawing millions of people from around the globe and bringing industry and business here. But we can’t stop at enjoying nature – we must also protect it for the future.”

Photos courtesy Lakota Guides