Washington, D.C. – The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) released the second edition of its Rural Economic Development Toolkit on a webinar with over 1,000 registrants. This essential resource, built upon three years of extensive research across the United States, is a comprehensive guide for communities looking to strengthen their economies through outdoor recreation. At a time when the outdoor recreation economy at large surpassed $1 trillion in economic impact, and communities around the country are utilizing outdoor recreation infrastructure and access for economic diversification, this resource is well-suited to meet the unprecedented demand for support.
ORR’s Vice President of Programs Chris Perkins stated, “This toolkit is more than just a resource; it’s also a roadmap for communities to enhance and build robust outdoor recreation economies, sourced from community leaders around the United States. Over 1000 people from communities and organizations nationwide signed up to learn from this tool, a testament to the growing interest and dedication towards sustainable economic development through outdoor recreation in rural America.”
Backed by the generous support of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and with the support of Oregon State University Center for the Outdoor Recreation Economy, this toolkit represents a significant advancement in empowering rural communities. In today’s nationally broadcast webinar for Congressional and agency staff, community leaders, economic development professionals, and recreation advocates, Perkins, the principal author of the toolkit, presented a broad array of new research and resources. Following his presentation, community leaders from various rural regions including Old Fort, North Carolina; Athens County, Ohio; the Pennsylvania Wilds; and Beckley, West Virginia, shared their success strategies, emphasizing the toolkit’s practical applications.
Key Features of the New Toolkit:
- In-depth modules covering topics such as Economic Development, Funding, Housing, Climate Resiliency, Accessibility in Recreation Infrastructure, Tribal Leadership, Data Utilization, and more.
- A comprehensive library of economic development examples in outdoor recreation, spanning every state in the country.
- An updated list of federal grants and technical assistance programs specifically for outdoor recreation economy development.
- A Community Self-Assessment Tool to assist communities in evaluating their outdoor recreation potential.
- A collection of Recreation Infrastructure Toolkits from ORR members, providing detailed insights into funding and development in rural areas.
From coast to coast, rural communities used the original toolkit to design projects aimed at boosting outdoor recreation economies. One example includes New Mexico, where local practitioners utilized the best practices outlined in the first edition of the toolkit to create a self-assessment tool to evaluate their economic development plans over time and determine what to prioritize. Perkins has been invited to present on the toolkit to dozens of national, state, and local audiences on the toolkit’s findings in recent years. The updated toolkit will make even more success stories like these possible.
“I am ecstatic to see ORR releasing this state-of-the-art toolkit,” said Corey Lilly, Outdoor Community Development Manager of the Brad & Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative at West Virginia University. “This toolkit will provide the critical information needed for small, transitioning rural communities to leverage their outdoors for economic gain. I eagerly anticipate sharing these valuable resources to elevate more local champions.”
“So many rural communities are making a run at growing this sector, and there is tremendous room for growth, but there are unique challenges we face in rural development.” said Ta Enos, founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center. “It is also one of those types of development — especially on the tourism side of outdoor rec — where you want to be intentional to drive positive outcomes like supporting local entrepreneurs, increasing stewardship and pride of place, and helping to attract new investment. That’s why the Toolkit is so valuable —it distills best practices and real-life approaches that are helping rural communities across the country get traction, so we can all learn from each other. Whether you are new to this type of development, or have been working on it for twenty years, it’s a great resource.”
“I’m delighted for our work to be featured in this impressive tool kit,” said Jessie Powers, Executive Director at Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA). “It will help empower rural areas to realize their unique opportunities, as well as advance tailored solutions that provide sustainable and inclusive economic, health, social, and environmental benefits.”
The launch of the toolkit marks a significant milestone in ORR’s ongoing commitment to supporting and developing rural economies through outdoor recreation. Along with today’s release, ORR also announced its Rural Toolkit Mapping Project, designed to showcase the level of need for outdoor recreation economic development support around the United States.
For more information, please visit ORR’s website.
The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable is the nation’s leading coalition of outdoor recreation associations representing the more than 110,000 outdoor businesses in the recreation economy and the full spectrum of outdoor-related activities. The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that outdoor recreation generated $1.1 trillion and 5 million American jobs in 2022, comprising 2.2% of the nation’s economy and 3.2% of all employees in the country.