Nov 14, 2022 - Business

Recreation economy highlighted at Axios NWA event

Axios' Mike Allen interviews Katherine Andrews, director of outdoor recreation for the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Axios' Mike Allen interviews Katherine Andrews, director of outdoor recreation for the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. Photo: Stephen Ironside/Axios

More than 200 people gathered at the Record in Bentonville last Thursday for an Axios event focused on the recreation economy in the Natural State.

The big picture: The industry in Arkansas grew 23% from 2020 to 2021, according to the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

  • Outdoor recreation accounts for 2.4% of the state's GDP and creates nearly 40,000 jobs, about 3% of all employment in Arkansas.

Details: Speakers interviewed by Axios' Mike Allen and Worth Sparkman shared their perspective on how the industry is shaping economic, social and health impacts in the state.

  • Guests included Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism's Outdoor Recreation director Katherine Andrews, Laneshift founder and CEO Ryan Hale, Bike.POC co-founder Bea Apple and University of Arkansas' Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program director Phil Shellhammer.
Bea Apple, co-founder of Bike.POC and Hillfolk, speaks to the audience about diversity and inclusion in outdoor recreation.
Bea Apple, co-founder of Bike.POC and Hillfolk, speaks to the audience about diversity and inclusion in outdoor recreation. Photo: Stephen Ironside/Axios

What they said: "We've got about $3.5 billion of GDP from outdoor recreation in the state," Andrews told Allen. Andrews was appointed to the newly created role focused on the industry last November.

  • "Biking in Northwest Arkansas generates $137 million a year for our economy. That's not like one event. That's not a one-time. That is every year," Hale said, noting a 2017 Walton Family Foundation study. "It's only grown since then."
  • "We recognize that in order to achieve the physical infrastructure that it's going to take to make active transportation better at a city block level. … It's going to take [an infrastructure of diverse people]," Apple said, advocating for increased access to recreation for marginalized communities.
  • "If you look at Northwest Arkansas … there are multiple organizations well-funded and well-thought-through to help bring people in that otherwise would feel shunned or don't feel a part of it at all," Shellhammer told Allen.

Go deeper: Watch the event online.

Ryan Hale, founder and CEO of Laneshift, speaks about how is firm helps communities develop active transportation programs.
Ryan Hale, founder and CEO of Laneshift, speaks about how is firm helps communities develop active transportation programs. Photo: Stephen Ironside/Axios
University of Arkansas' Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program director Phil Shellhammer speaks to Axios' Mike Allen about the startup community in outdoor recreation.
University of Arkansas' Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program director Phil Shellhammer speaks with Axios' Mike Allen, left, about the recreation startup community. Photo: Stephen Ironside/Axios

At the event, Tom Walton, co-founder of holding company Runway Group, alluded to an announcement related to gravel cycling.

What's happening: Runway will on Monday reveal the Arkansas Rural Recreational Roads initiative — Arkansas R3 — that will designate specific routes where cyclists can enjoy low-traffic, dirt- and gravel-road cycling.

  • The initiative begins with routes in Benton County, but will eventually offer guidance throughout NWA and the state.

The big picture: The sport has gained popularity in recent years as cyclists look to travel places not previously seen from two wheels and to avoid increasingly distracted drivers.

  • There are more than 1,200 miles of gravel roads in Benton County, Walton said.

What they're saying: "Gravel is the fastest-growing form of cycling and is more accessible to beginners than mountain biking," Walton said in a news release. "A significant number of people have access to this activity right from their front porch."

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