For the economy, for your health, and for the planet, go outside and stay there.
For the economy, for your health, and for the planet, go outside and stay there. Rich Smith

So, you want to save Washington’s economy? Well then get out of town and go jump in a lake.

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A new report from Tacoma nonprofit Earth Economics shows that prior to the pandemic, people spent $26.5 billion on outdoor recreation in Washington; and with new research indicating that outdoor activities are much safer than indoor, investing in the state’s natural resources could help dig us out of the horrible economic catastrophe that’s looming over us all.

A few choice details from the report: Residents and tourists spend $18.8 billion per year — in normal times — on outdoor recreation trips, plus another $7.7 billion on gear, equipment, and repair services. Outdoor recreation supports 264,000 jobs, about as much as the aerospace industry. And every dollar spent on outdoor recreation supports $1.52 in economic activity through secondary effects like linen cleaning, groceries, insurance, and utilities.

And then there are the public benefits of having natural areas nearby — clean air, water storage, habitat security, educational value, and so on. That’s estimated to be worth around $250 billion per year.

“We should think strongly about continuing to invest in our outdoor assets — to maintain our trails, re-design overcrowded boat launches, repair deteriorated campgrounds, and build new places to recreate,” writes Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office in a release accompanying the report.

All of these figures are pre-pandemic, so it’s hard to say how much they’ll be affected by quarantine, unemployment, and the general malaise of our times. But with no end in sight to the closure of many industries, it could be time for the state to build up opportunities to spend time and create new job opportunities in nature. Most Washington State Parks are open for visitors and are taking reservations for cabins and campgrounds.

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“This report highlights just how valuable our outdoor places are to us and to those who plan to visit the state,” writes Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz (whom The Stranger just endorsed for re-election). “This report illustrates how much people plan and prepare to make the most of the outdoors, particularly today with it being one piece of normalcy we all need to get us through this unprecedented time.”

And as it happens, Congress just passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will fund huge upgrades at national parks and also secures funding from oil and gas projects to pay for environmental protections. (Of course the environment could also be protected by just not having oil and gas projects at all, but that’s not the world we live in.) It’s expected to create 100,000 jobs, and it’s such an obvious win-win that even dummies like the Trump family support it.

Meanwhile, emerging data suggest that ventilation and fresh air are crucial for reducing further viral infections. For the economy, for your health, and for the planet, go outside and stay there.

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