Lee County’s Outdoor Recreation Economy

July 08, 2021 | Written by: sanford-user

By John Dean, Economic Development Manager

Do you ever find yourself wandering in San-Lee Nature Park, just a five-minute drive from downtown Sanford, thinking about how lucky we are to have such easy access to hiking and biking? Or perhaps considered the preservation of a place like White Pines Nature Preserve and its impact on our local economy? Well, maybe not so much this second thought. However, perhaps next time you are exploring one of Lee County’s many natural amenities, you will consider the significant impact that nature-based outdoor recreation pursuits such as hiking, biking, hunting, and boating have on our national, state, and even local, economy.


Across the country, the outdoor recreation economy generates $887 billion annually in consumer spending, while employing 7.6 million Americans, according to the Outdoor Recreation Association. These numbers continue to increase each year, growing even faster than the nation’s economy as a whole (source: Headwaters Economics).


The impact is just as profound in North Carolina. According to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), “outdoor recreation in North Carolina generates $28 billion in consumer spending annually.” With easy access to mountains, rivers, and ocean, this should come as no surprise. Furthermore, outdoor recreation in this state accounts for 260,000 direct jobs (source: EDPNC). While many of these jobs lie in the service sector and are driven by nature-based tourism, an important piece of North Carolina’s outdoor recreation is manufacturing. The products made in North Carolina are diverse; from kayaks and hammocks, to camping trailers and wool hiking socks, the state has positioned itself as a national leader in the growing outdoor recreation economy. This sector has become so important to North Carolina that the state created its own Outdoor Industry Recruitment Office in 2017, becoming just the fourth to create a state office promoting outdoor recreation tourism and manufacturing.


What does this mean for us here in Lee County? Consider a home-grown outdoor recreation manufacturer such as Cashion Fishing Rods. Or a local outfitter such as Endor Paddle. Or a regional mountain biking destination such as San-Lee Nature Park. These, and the many other assets not recognized in this article, are critical to the future of Lee County’s growing economy. As decision-makers consider the future Sanford and Lee County, developing resources and opportunities for outdoor recreation manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and destinations to compete in the one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy is paramount.


If you are interested in learning more about North Carolina’s outdoor recreation economy, make sure to visit the resources available through EDPNC’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office at https://edpnc.com/industries/orec/orec-resources/.