Of Course the Wilderness is Good!

     We all know the wilderness is good for us, right? In Grand Marais, Minnesota there wouldn’t be half as many businesses as there are if we didn’t have the recreational businesses in the area. Grand Marais is a small town with around 1400 people yet we have 3 grocery stores, 3 gas stations, 3 banks and numerous restaurants.  These exist because of the wilderness and the businesses that promote outdoor recreation.

     We also have many successful events in our area. The people who started the Boreal Birding Fest, Moose Madness, Winter Tracks, Ham Run and Mush for a Cure are all business owners. 

     Our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department depends upon the business owners.  The past two Fire Chiefs have been business owners and many of the members of the department are business owners or their employees.

     Wilderness is definitely good for us in Cook County and for everyone who visits.

Local view: Wilderness is good for jobs and good for us

The numbers are in, and outdoor recreation in Minnesota is officially big business. A report released last month by the Outdoor Industry Association quantifies the economic impact of activities such as hiking, camping, skiing and canoeing in our state.

By: Paul Danicic and Bill Forsberg, for the News Tribune

The numbers are in, and outdoor recreation in Minnesota is officially big business. A report released last month by the Outdoor Industry Association quantifies the economic impact of activities such as hiking, camping, skiing and canoeing in our state.

Outdoor recreation in Minnesota generates $11.6 billion in consumer spending, 118,000 direct Minnesota jobs, $3.4 billion in wages and salaries, and $815 million in state and local tax revenue. How is it so much? The study found that at least 69 percent of Minnesotans enjoy our great outdoors each year.

This national coalition of outdoor retailers, manufacturers and other businesses, led by companies such as REI and Columbia Sportswear, recognized the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as one of our state’s greatest outdoor assets, drawing tourists from all over the country and the world. It is a gem of Minnesota’s great outdoors and economy.

The report actually underrepresents the economic importance of outdoor recreation in Minnesota’s economy because it did not include hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing, three popular activities in our northern Minnesota wilderness and across the state. It also didn’t include the “multiplier effect” that you often see in economic reports, tallies of jobs indirectly created by the industry.

Nationwide, the report reveals outdoor recreation creates 6.1 million jobs, more than construction and almost three times the jobs in the oil and gas industries.

The people and businesses that rely on our great outdoors in Minnesota ought to be studied more closely and considered thoughtfully when our state considers its economic future. Many of these businesses are family owned and integral parts of their community, and they represent the sort of entrepreneurial spirit we should support in this economy. Money coming to them generally stays within the region.

Minnesota is home to a broad range of businesses in the outdoor recreation industry, including outdoors stores big and small. The big names include Wenonah Canoes, Duluth Pack, Granite Gear and Red Wing Shoes. Innumerable resorts, camps and wilderness outfitters are spread across northern Minnesota.

Ely alone is home to 14 canoe-outfitting businesses, seven businesses that do both canoe outfitting and cabin rentals, 18 resorts, the Northern Tier Boy Scout High Adventure Camp, Veteran’s At the Lake Resort, four not-for-profit tourism-based businesses, and four businesses that provide dogsledding trips.

Tourism in the Ely area has continued to grow during the recession. Revenue for tourism businesses in 2011 came in at an all-time high based on Ely’s lodging tax dollars. Because of 2011’s late-season revenue from the Pagami Creek Fire, it was expected that 2012 would not be as prosperous; but lodging tax dollars did indeed exceed those in 2011. Tourism is a vital part of Ely’s job market: It is estimated there are nearly 400 full-time, year-round employees and more than 600 people employed in the summer months.

Sadly, until this report, the economic impact of these businesses received little study and less publicity. The University of Minnesota and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board would do well to see how we can maximize the economic opportunities of our great outdoors.

Nature always will be important for its own sake. You can’t put a dollar figure on a child experiencing the silence of a Boundary Waters lake for the first time or the returns to the wilderness over a lifetime for the chance to fish and swim in clean water. Sigurd Olson spoke eloquently about the wilderness’ spiritual value to human beings, and many people practically consider it their church. It’s heartening to see that these invaluable experiences also help put food on a lot of Minnesota tables.

Paul Danicic of Minneapolis is executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Bill Forsberg of Ely is the owner of Timber Trail resort and serves on several nonprofit boards in Ely.