Rural KY communities can prosper through recreation, Rural Development can help
Dr. Tom Carew, State Director
USDA Rural Development Kentucky
Spring is here, and what better way to experience spring than getting outside. Across this amazing country of ours, millions do just that and take part in what’s become known as the recreation economy.
Recreation economies are based on tourism and outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, and skiing. As many rural areas have found, they can see a significant economic boost by attracting visitors and creating jobs in the hospitality, food service, and outdoor recreation sectors.
Here in Kentucky, outdoor recreation is a small but mighty part of the overall economic picture. In 2021, outdoor recreation brought in approximately $4.8 billion and was responsible for over 49,000 jobs across the commonwealth. After all, we have beautiful state parks, a national park and a national forest with miles and miles of trails enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Our beautiful lakes attract scores of fishermen and boating enthusiasts, and the popularity of recreational offroad vehicles and ATV’s is growing every year.
We at USDA, Rural Development see these successes and want to help rural Kentucky capitalize on their natural resources while also protecting them and preserving cultural heritage. In 2021, Rural Development released a guide called the “Recreation Economy at USDA Economic Development Resources for Rural Communities” designed to help rural communities identify ways to develop a recreation economy.
In Eastern Kentucky, we awarded a Rural Business Development Grant to Backroads of Appalachia to help develop a mobile application. The app helps bring in motorsports enthusiasts from across the country through over 80 miles of routes. It also lists landmarks and helpful information like restaurants and gas stations along each route, most of which are locally owned and operated.
While a strong recreational sector has many positive economic impacts, it can also lead to positive conservation efforts. Recreational economies often rely on sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. A community that relies on outdoor recreation will take more strides to protect that resource.
Overall, the development of recreational economies is a promising strategy for rural America, one that has the potential to create new jobs, attract investment, and conserve natural resources while preserving the rural way of life. Rural communities can build a brighter and more sustainable future for themselves and future generations through recreational economies, and Rural Development is looking forward to being their partner in prosperity.