Washington's mountain recreation economy

Washington's mountain recreation economy

Washington's evergreen mountains are a source of pride for many that live in the evergreen state. Boasting nearly 25 peaks, the Olympic as well as Cascade mountain ranges provide recreation to thousands each year with an estimated economic value of $168 per acre. With the Olympic National Park reaching nearly one million acres and the North Cascade Ecosystem reaching a staggering eleven million acres the economic value of these mountain ranges to Washington state is immeasurable. Those who benefit from the mountains of Washington; from recreationalists, to industries which boost its mountain economy, must now take steps to preserve the natural climate and ultimately help slow global warming.


When Yellowstone was set aside in 1872 as the world's first national park, it marked the start of a new attitude toward the American outdoors. Citizens gradually came to see value in saving tracts of open space for everyone to enjoy. By 1900 three more national parks had been added (including Mount Rainier National Park in 1899) and a few scattered states had begun to develop public parks of their own.

In 1921, when the first National Conference of State Parks was held, 29 states still had not established any state parks at all. Washington - though its Parks Board was only a few years old - already boasted seven.

1913State legislature creates the Washington State Board of Park Commissioners, consisting mostly of elected officials. Lawmakers offer no official instructions, guidelines or funding for the new board.

1915Board accepts first two donated park properties: John R. Jackson House, a pioneer heritage site near Chehalis, and Chuckanut State Park (now Larrabee), a forested tract with saltwater beach access near Bellingham.

1921House Bill 164 gives the board specific powers to:Adopt and enforce regulations for parks.Plant trees along state highways.Improve and beautify parks and parkways.Permit citizens to camp in parks.Grant concessions for services in parks.Acquire land, including shore and tidelands, for park purposes.

The board gets a new name - State Parks Committee. It still receives no legislative funding but is now permitted to collect concession rentals and camping fees.

1921-1928Car ownership zooms, as does demand for new destinations. The committee adds approximately a dozen new parks, including the system's first significant geological site (Crawford State Park north of Spokane) and its first decommissioned military post (Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island.)

1928-1931Governor Roland Hartley, elected on the promise to "reduce the cost of government and lighten the burden of taxation," vetoes every legislative-approved State Parks budget of his four-year term. Most parks are closed and facilities deteriorate due to vandalism and lack of maintenance.

1932Three years into the Great Depression, newly elected Governor Clarence D. Martin approves State Parks funding again. Hard times increase public demand for parks that families can visit for free.

1933President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announces the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal relief program that puts young men to work planting trees, fighting fires and developing public park lands. Washington State Parks benefits tremendously from this and other relief work programs during the Great Depression. Even now, more than six decades later, scores of roads, hiking trails, bathhouses and picnic shelters built by "The Three Cs" are in active use.

1940 - 1945State park development grinds to a halt during World War II.

1947A booming post-war economy and an overall increase in leisure time fuels interest in outdoor recreation. A new Parks Bill passed by the legislature transforms the State Parks Committee into the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Four of its seven appointees must be private citizens and all are to have some experience in parks and recreation. The commission is given authority to hire a director of Parks and Recreation to oversee the State Parks system.

1950-1960Increased legislative funding and skyrocketing public demand spur a flurry of land acquisitions. The number of State Park areas increases from 79 properties in 1950 to 130 properties ten years later. These include a half dozen marine parks, the first in an extensive system of parks designed just for boaters. Annual attendance at State Parks soars from 1.6 million at the start of the decade to seven million in 1960.

1961-1970A combination of voter-approved state funding and new federal programs for outdoor recreation gives Washington State Parks a chance to improve old facilities while continuing to add new ones. Among the significant acquisitions of this period are the Seashore Conservation Area (providing more access to public beaches) and military Forts Ebey and Worden (completing the system's string of historic coastal defenses).

1969The legislature restructures the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, making it an all-citizen board. No commissioners are permitted to hold any elective or full-time appointive government office.

1971-1980Outdoor recreation thrives, along with a growing interest in environmental issues. Park users engage in more and more specialized activities, from cross-country skiing and snowmobiling to riding all-terrain vehicles. Land acquisition slows compared to the feverish pace of the '50s and '60s, but the legislature funds a variety of new recreation programs-especially winter trail sports.

1980-1988Washington's economy hits hard times as timber and aerospace industries slump. Only a handful of new lands are acquired during this period. Budget cuts strike the State Parks system. Staffing is cut and maintenance deferred while the number of visitors climbs.

1993Voters pass Initiative 601, which caps state spending and restricts increases in user fees. State Parks cannot raise fees sufficiently to keep up with demand for services. At the same time the legislature requires State Parks to become more self-supporting. Further cuts in staffing and more deferred maintenance follow.

1997The only two facilities developed by Washington State Parks during the 1990s, Rasar State Park on the Skagit River, opens in July. The second park is Hope Island, a marine park in Mason county dedicated May 13, 2000, after much work by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition to designate the piece of land as a state park instead of a housing development.

1999The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, asked by Governor Gary Locke to plan for a theoretical seven percent budget reduction, responds with a list of parks it would feel forced to close under those conditions. State Parks is not required to take the drastic cut, but the public expresses outrage that park closures would even be considered.

2000Demand for recreation areas grows as everyone from mountain bikers and rock climbers to wind-surfers and scuba divers seeks room to enjoy the outdoors. Annual attendance swells to 58 million. State Parks handle 40 percent more visitors than they did a decade ago - with little increase in staff. Funding for everyday operations has not kept pace with inflation while the increasing backlog of maintenance projects stands at more than $34 million. Challenges abound as the Washington State Parks system prepares to celebrate 90 years of service in 2003.

2003The state park system celebrated its 90th anniversary on March 19.The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission adopted a vision to guide the system toward its 100th anniversary in 2013. In summary, the vision states that the park system will:

Be comprised solely of parks with natural, historic and recreational resources of statewide and regional significance;Protect these resources;Provide recreation and learning;Offer access to places of uncommon quality, representing the premier lands, waters, wildlife, culture and history of Washington state.

Recreation Activities

now Sports

There are several contemporary issues that one could consider potential constraints on the economic growth of snow sports; the skyrocketing price of petroleum, the increasing cost of consumer goods as well as the falling value of the dollar. This however is not currently the case. As of March 2008 the snow sports market has attained a staggering 2.35 billion dollars in sales for the season. This is a number that well exemplifies the tremendous boom of the snow sports economy as it represents a 13% increase over the span of one fiscal year. Nonetheless this trend is on track to turn for the worse as global warming due to climate shift is rendering less annual snow accumulation as well as subsequent shorter seasons for the industry. The SnowSports Industry America (SIA), the national not-for-profit trade association representing the winter sports industry has been implementing environmental friendly programs since the mid 80s. Their most recent effort to help reduce the carbon footprint was introduced this year at the SIA 2008 SnowSports Trade Show recently held in Las Vegas. Their initiative entitled ECOsource was concepted, designed and built by Dept. of Energy from Seattle, WA and focused solely on snow sports products and initiatives that were recyclable, sustainable or made from recycled materials. Additionally for the first time, SIA also partnered with Greener Vegas to recycle 35,640 pounds of paper after this year’s Show. The impact: this process saved 303 trees, convert|123|oilbbl|m3 of oil, 124,740 gallons of water and 71,280 Kilowatts of Energy.


One way to measure the economic worth of hiking as an activity is to look at the total economic impact, or contribution, of the outdoor industry to the national and state economy. Overall, low-impact outdoor recreation, which includes bicycling, camping, fishing, hunting, paddling, skiing, snowshoeing, climbing, hiking, backpacking, and wildlife viewing, contributed $730 billion in 2005 to the U.S. economy. The industry also supported 6.5 million jobs, generated $88 billion in annual state and national tax revenue, sold $289 billion worth of gear and services. The Washington active outdoor recreation economy contributes $11.7 billion to Washington’s economy, supports 115,000 jobs, generates $650 million in annual state tax revenue, and produces $8.5 billion annually in retail sales and services statewide, accounting for 3.5% of the gross state product. According to the IMPLAN economic modeling system, this makes the outdoor industry one of the largest in the state. Only the Washington software industry is larger, contributing $13.2 billion. The outdoor industry contributes to the Washington state economy more than the aerospace industry and the computer manufacturing industries combined.Another economic value that hiking presents to Washington is its reduction of health care costs. Hiking is believed to relieve stress, and outdoor experiences have been shown to decrease attention deficit disorder, obesity, and depression among children, if not adults as well. Obesity costs Washington state $1,330,000,000 in attributable medical procedures. High blood pressures, which can be reduced by hiking, cost $60 billion in health care spending in 2005 alone. Given that a good 6-hour day of hiking can burn 2600 calories in a convert|150|lb|abbr=on person, the economic health cost benefits of hiking are undeniable.

Climate Change Affects

Global Warming is rendering unsettling events all across the nation; winter flooding, reduced summer water supplies, increasingly destructive wildfires, stressed salmon runs etc. all have been more and more frequent. These impacts are creeping in to many peoples leisure activities as well. Several activities are being affected by climate change, however no industry is feeling the repercussions quite like snow sport enthusiasts. For many throughout the State of Washington, Winter mountain recreation is synonymous with skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. Climate induced threats to this state's snowpack could compromise what for some is fun and for others a livelihood. Snoqualmie pass sits as the closest major winter recreation area to Washington's trademark city of Seattle. It also resides convert|3200|ft|m above sea level, making it the lowest ski resort in Washington state as well as the most prone to global warming. A Snoqualmie skiing season that's now four months long on average stands to shrink to less than three months in 20 years, researchers say. In 40 years, it could be down to two months. Warming conditions also hold the potential to trigger avalanche conditions that are a risk to skiers, boarders, and hikers. As of 1984, All of the 117 North Cascade glaciers were receding and presently 7 have disappeared.


* http://www.nps.gov/archive/noca/treas3.htm
* http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/21922
* http://www.nps.gov/olym/naturescience/index.htm
* http://www.nps.gov/archive/noca/treas3.htm
* http://www.parks.wa.gov/history.asp
* http://www.xcskiworld.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=2714&sid=84ffa9b5d4ba49b7cffc1b9939316b69
* http://www.snowsports.org/sia_shows_events/sia_show_news/actions_speak_louder_than_words_when_it_comes_to_being_green
* http://www.wta.org/trail-news/publications/Value-of-Hiking.pdf
* http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/148043_warming13.html
* http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/nacc/education/rockies-greatbasin/rockiesandgreatbasin-edu-6.htm

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