Study underscores the importance of outdoor recreation in Arizona

April 15, 2019 GMT

Mohave County ranks fifth in Arizona outdoor recreation along the state’s waterways, according to a new study by the Arizona Audubon Society.

As the fifth largest county in the nation, Mohave County has seen a rising popularity among outdoors enthusiasts over the past decade, according to statistics from the Arizona Tourism Office. The county generates $710 million annually from outdoor recreation, while drawing about 110,000 Arizona residents per year. Outdoor recreation in Mohave County supports 6,200 jobs per year, and provides more than $42 million in annual state and local tax revenues, the report says.

Recreation has long been one of Mohave County’s biggest economic drivers, and according to Audubon Arizona Policy Manager Haley Paul, that is especially true in proximity to all of the state’s waterways.

“Recreation is very important to Arizona’s economy,” said Audubon Arizona Policy Manager Haley Paul. “It’s a $13.5 billion-per-year industry, and supports about 14,000 jobs throughout the state. It ranks higher than mining and golf. Picnicking and relaxing were the top recreational activities throughout Arizona, and we were a little surprised by that – it’s amazing to see how people just enjoy hanging out next to the water. But boating was definitely in the top five.”

According to Lake Havasu Marine Association President Alan Oleson, boating will only continue to grow in popularity as more Californians seek recreation along Arizona waterways.

“It’s become much more popular over the past couple of years,” Oleson said. “We’ve been designated one of the best fishing places west of the Rockies. We’ve been seeing more people coming from California because there are so many lake restrictions over there. We’re seeing more and more every year. I meet with law enforcement officials and experts every few months, and they’re all saying the same thing: Boating is going to continue to grow, and we’re expecting it to go up every year.”

Boating was the second-most popular recreational industry in Mohave County, according to Audubon Arizona. About 58,000 Arizona residents reported engaging in water sports while visiting Mohave County, Audubon Arizona said, while 68,000 enjoyed picnicking and relaxing. The third-most popular recreational activity in Mohave County, according to the Audubon Society, was wildlife watching.

Statewide, the most popular avenues for recreation included picnics, fishing, water sports and trail sports – which includes off-road recreation. Wildlife watching and camping were also popular, the report said, with more than 550,000 participating in each. The least popular recreational activity in Arizona, however, was also arguably the least available: Snow sports.

“One of the big reasons we did this study was to better determine the value of these areas – to determine what our rivers, lakes and streams are worth. We’d love for people to recognize that these places are worth protecting, not just as resources but for the economic benefits they are.”

According to Arizona Audubon, expenditures across waterway recreation can include fuel, food, admission fees, guides, lodging, equipment purchases, supplies, permits, apparel accessories and other related expenses. Arizona’s waterways are a boon for communities throughout Arizona, the organization says.

“Arizona’s iconic rivers – the Colorado, the San Pedro, the Verde and others – bring in visitors from all over the world who seek the one-of-a-kind recreational opportunities they provide,” said Arizona Office of Tourism Director Colleen Floyd. “This creates significant tourism revenue for our communities and an economic incentive to preserve our waterways.”

In 2017, tourism was the top export industry in Arizona, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism. Almost 44 million people visited Arizona in 2017 and collectively spent $22.7 billion throughout the state.