Published: July 7, 2020

Capstone Project: Outdoor Recreation Economic Impact Methodology

Capstone Partner: American Whitewater & Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office

Student Team: Lorenzo Muñoz, Carrie Tanner, Mayra Mendez, Megan Paliwoda
rafting in river

Americans have been visiting our open spaces at a record rate. National Park Service data reveals that the past decade has seen more park visitors than any prior. As American’s interests in our public lands continue to grow, so does outdoor recreation. This recent spike in interest has pushed mountain sports once considered eccentric closer towards the mainstream. Whether you look at mountain biking, paddle boarding, rock climbing or rafting, there’s no doubt that Colorado’s recreation economy now plays a major role in the state’s economic outlook.

As this sector continues to see growth, nonprofits and state governments are partnering to ensure these natural resources and local economies see improvements as a result. In order to accomplish this goal it will be crucial to equip local communities with the tools necessary to quantify this emerging resource.

MENV students Carrie Tanner, Lorenzo Muñoz, Mayra Mendez and Megan Paliwoda have partnered up with the nonprofit American Whitewater and the state’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office to create a multi-sport replicable methodology to help small communities conduct their own economic impact analysis at the county level. The students are using water-based recreation on the Dolores River Basin located near the four corners region of the state as a case study for their research. This particular river was chosen to serve as the pilot for the methodology due to its unique position as both a premiere multi-day rafting destination while also existing as a natural resource constantly under threat from inconsistent flows as a result of variable snowpack and competing interests between boaters, local agriculture and conservationists.

snaggle tooth The capstone team has begun collecting qualitative data from regional stakeholders, including local advocacy groups and government agencies, to begin developing a comprehensive list of influential stakeholders. Future groups will reach out to these in order to access relevant economic information. The team has conducted all interviews and outreach efforts virtually in accordance with university recommendations surrounding COVID-19.

This toolkit will assist local counties as they work to develop an economic impact analysis of the region. This process will include helpful resources for oftentimes under resourced counties. These resources range from initial geographic considerations to better isolate where recreation-related economic activity takes place to more detailed economic resources that include how to locate and better understand the direct and indirect effects certain recreation has on surrounding businesses. The final deliverable will be delivered in three different forms:

Guidebook - This guidebook will be the first of its kind, providing the most detailed account of the methodology for use in regions very interested in quantifying their recreation economy.

ArcGIS Story Map - This web-based service will provide a simplified version of the final methodology intended to be shared among communities to create interest in the full guidebook. It will include maps, videos and other rich media to help the toolkit reach a wider audience through additional context, ease of use, and shareability.

Webinar - The team will conduct a webinar to present the final deliverable to the outdoor recreation community. This will provide an opportunity for real-time feedback and insight on next steps.

Photos by Sam Morrison.