Andrew Thorne (that’s him in the Jeep below) lives in Columbus but leaves the metro area about once a week to enjoy parks, waterways and trails around Ohio.
These trips are a lifeline for Thorne’s well-being in the way of stress relief and enjoyment.
A new report by a group of Ohio State researchers suggests the visits — Thorne’s plus the nearly 15 outdoor trips the average Ohioan takes a year — also contribute to the well-being of the state’s economy.
In “Economic Valuation of Natural Areas in Ohio,” the researchers determined how much activities including fishing, hiking and bicycling contribute financially to Ohio’s economy and mapped out the value of Ohio’s ecosystem services across its wide swath of counties.
The study stemmed from Ohio State student Roman Gioglio’s perception that those living in Ohio and setting policy around natural areas lack an understanding of the value of Ohio’s outdoor recreational areas. Gioglio studies environment, economy, development and sustainability in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and works as a trip leader at Ohio State’s Outdoor Adventure Center, providing wilderness-based experiences for the university community.
Gioglio wondered if outdoor recreation could serve as a part of the solution to economic strife in natural resource- or industry-based communities. By placing a dollar value on outdoor areas, he believed he could energize citizens and policymakers to put more resources into securing and maintaining them.
Gioglio and faculty members Jeremy Bruskotter, Tim Haab and Brent Sohngen set out to quantify the worth of Ohio’s natural areas by estimating the economic gains to the people who use them and the economic gains to state agencies who provide and maintain them.
“There are 171 million outdoor recreational trips in Ohio each year,” says Brent Sohngen, Gioglio’s faculty advisor and report co-author. “We calculate these trips are worth $3.6 billion to the people who take them.”
Those trips are worth even more to the state.
The report authors calculate that Ohioans spend nearly $6 billion, or $34 per trip, including direct costs such as money spent on food, bait, gasoline and other one-time expenses. Equipment costs weren't included.
Further, the researchers quantified the value added by outdoor recreation to Ohio’s economy by treating it as an industry sector. In 2017, the outdoor recreation sector added a value of over $8.1 billion, or 1.3%, to income for Ohioans, and employed close to 133,000 workers, or 1.9% of Ohio's total workforce.
Lastly, the report estimates the economic value of natural resources and assets to the state through use of an emerging concept of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are provided by nature and consumed by humans, either directly or indirectly. The researchers quantify values provided by agriculture, timber, carbon storage and forest recreation.
The researchers calculate the value of these ecosystem services on Ohio’s land to be $287 per acre per year.
Forests provide the largest value out of the studied services, due largely to carbon storage. Forests provide $404 per acre of forestland per year, and forest recreation generates $309 per acre per year.
“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources spends around $244 per acre per year in land management,” says Sohngen, “so the benefits of recreation on public forests alone outweigh the expenditure by government agencies to manage them.”
Considering that the percentage of public land per Ohioan is low compared with other states across the country, the report authors hope their findings will show the value of outdoor areas and inform policy on what we do with the land we have.
It’s hard for Thorne, the outdoor enthusiast, to wrap his head around putting a dollar amount on what he gets during his time spent running trails.
“I’m not thinking about the economics,” says Thorne. “But I do know the trails don’t build or maintain themselves.”