Tuesday, July 28 2015
By Clarence Clay
“Hey! That boat sounds like it’s going to hit the dike!” I yelled the warning to Phil Broussard, as we struggled to pull his jonboat across a hump of land deep in the wilds of Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Louisiana.
“It just did,“ Phil, laughed as a terrific pounding noise came from the yon side of the embankment only a few feet away.
“That’s just a local Coonass making his rounds,“ Phil chuckled, noting the look of astonishment on my face. He explained the Cajuns who live, fish, hunt and trap in this remote, but the amazingly-rich outdoor treasury, dislike dikes, rule and laws made by people rarely every go to the trouble of pulling a boat over the designed boat crossing.
The boater, probably an alligator trapper since I couldn’t see any fishing gear bouncing around during his wild ride, was the fist person Phil and I had seen after we boarded his light-weight boat as a small marina near Lake Charles and began winding our way through a maze of cuts, canals, and shallow pools, meandering a route to a favorite redfish hotspot located off the Intra-Coastal Waterway in Southwestern Louisiana.
While the three of us played out our little drama floating on top of a mist=-shrouded swamp in about as wild a place you can still find in America, our contribution to the local and national economy seemed pretty pale. Nonetheless, we were only a trivial part of the business of outdoor recreation in the U.S. that encompasses an unbelievable 645 billion dollar spending juggernaut that creates more than 6.1 million jobs in the US.
While Phillip and I would toss in a hundred bucks for license, fuel and a few cold ones for our wilderness adventure. Millions of Americans are doing likewise. Because of these here and there expenditures, outdoor recreation in America contribute $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue, and piles $39.7 billion in state and local tax revenue.
Outside Crops are Booming!
However, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, while Americans had to cut back on non essential spending the 140 million strong consumer group made sure they kept their very important outdoor recreation activities in their daily lives.
Big, Solid Business
In short, outdoor recreation is a growing and diverse economic super sector that is a vital cornerstone of successful communities that cannot be ignored. Most importantly, outdoor recreation is no longer a “nice to have,” it is now a “must have” as leaders across the country recognize the undeniable economic, social and health benefits of outdoor recreation
Over-Looked Giant in the Economy
What? Americans spend more on bicycling ($58 billion) than they do on airline tickets ($51 billion).
Putting America to Work
A tremendous diversity of career opportunities exists beyond product-related jobs. When Americans play outside during day outings or overnight trips, their spending directly supports professions like guides and outfitters, lodging operators, park managers and rangers, concessionaires, small business owners and many more. In total, 6.1 million American livelihoods directly depend on outdoor recreation, making it a critical economic sector in the United States.
Steady as She Goes
As Phil and I demonstrated earlier in this report, even the lowest denominator in the huge picture of outdoor recreation in America, plays an important role. For our part, I traveled by auto from my home in eastern Kentucky to Lake Charles, Louisiana to meet up with Phil, an important outdoor media person in that region of the state. I wanted to write a story about an alligator trapper in the Big Burn Marsh a public access area for fishermen, hunters, canoeist bird watcher and anyone else who love the wilds with the easy transportation of a watery highway. You can imagine my cost for travel and food (though I’m known for high consumption of Beanie-Weenies and canned sardines in mustard sauce) when I’m on the water) license, fuel and so forth.
When multiplied by millions across America, the total expenditure, even for a casual day in the outdoors is staggering.
But what about US?
This statement is commonly heard, but it’s a misrepresentation of the facts. For example, in eastern Kentucky that has been ravaged by strip mining for coal and other minerals for centuries, where forestlands have been exploited, leaving ragged landscapes created by clear cuts and highways are ruined by Super Mac trucks hauling over-weight loads of coal, local and state bodies are pitching in to make a change. Kentucky’s First Lady. Jane Beshear has rolled up her sleeves to make a difference in this once spoiled land for tourism. Today, thanks to help from Jane and dozens of county officials and strong interest groups, the rugged terrain now affords some of the most awesome off-road adventure sites in the U.S. Mountain biking, hiking, four-wheeling, horseback riding, rock climbing, and exploring these once abused areas are now bringing big bucks into an economy destroyed by a lack of need for coal-producing energy around the world.
Kentucky is also leading the pack in the form of the reintroduction of native wildlife species. These once thrived in the so-called Happy hunting ground, but were hunted to near instinct ion during development of the state.
Several years ago, then Governor Paul Patton, a native of eastern Kentucky and a former strip miner. Led the effort by the state fish & wildlife agency to restore the American elk to the mountains of the state. Today, more than 40,000 of the large, beautiful animals are drawing elk viewers by the thousands annually. In addition Kentucky’s lottery for an elk license draw allows world record type nimrods from any place in the world to purchase a lottery ticket that might bring a license to hunt these magnificent animals.
Future Continues to be Strong
Outdoor recreation however continues to be strong. Traditional activities like hunting is falling off and fishing, while continuing to grow, is doing so at a slower pace. But while activities may slack off in some categories, it booms in others. For instance, day hiking on federal land in the South have increased in the past few years by more than 100 percent. Bird watching has shook off the concept of nerdish-type individuals carrying enormous size binoculars and a field guide to a sophisticate population that includes the entire spectrum of society.
Outdoor recreation in its curving, twisting sometimes complex way, is a critical asset to people all over the world. Some would even say it’s the absolute salvation of many who are caught up in the pressure-filled lifestyles of everyday life.
Master of Still Photography
Award Winning Photo-Journalist
Soc and his wife Wanda along with Stormy, their yellow Lab, live in a log cabin in a deep fold of the Appalachians in eastern Kentucky.