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Outdoor Recreation: An Economic Development Driver in West Virginia

West Virginia is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Between hiking, biking, rock climbing, off-roading and whitewater rafting, our state has a little something for everyone who likes the great outdoors. 

The outdoor recreation industry has also been a major economic driver for our state for decades and in recent years, the state has seen a surge in tourism, and the outdoor recreation industry is a major contributor to this growth. Visitors come to West Virginia to enjoy its natural beauty and to participate in outdoor activities, and they are spending money on hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. 

And with the designation of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, there has been even more of an uptick of visitors throughout southern West Virginia, and specifically around the four areas designated as a National Park. Record numbers of people visited the park in 2021, with nearly 1.7 million visitors in that year – an increase of more than 600,000 from 2020, according to WV Public Broadcasting. 

The National Park designation is also driving more international visitors to our area. Tabitha Stover, executive director of the Fayetteville CVB, told WV Explorer, “We’ve registered guests from 18 countries here at the visitor center,” Stover said. “It’s growing, and it’s going to keep growing.”

We've registered guests from 18 countries here at the visitor center. It's growing, and it's going to keep growing.

As outdoor recreation has been a driving force in the state’s tourism industry, West Virginia State Parks’ revenue reached an all-time high last year, according to the West Virginia Tourism Office. In 2022, tourism’s economic impact in West Virginia hit an all-time high. 

With 44,400 tourism-supported jobs, $4.9 billion in traveler spending and $754 million in tax revenue generation. It is forecasted that an additional 21,000 jobs will be created in the tourism industry each year through 2025. 

Check It Out!
A few years ago, our executive director, Jina Belcher, was interviewed for an article focused on the economic development aspects of the outdoor recreation industry for WV Living.