The Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation in Mesa County

How to cite this study

Perry, N., Casey, T. and Snyder, J. 2022. The Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation in Mesa County. Grand Junction, CO: Colorado Mesa University.


To estimate the full economic impact of outdoor recreation across Mesa County, Colorado, researchers measured the impact of both outdoor recreation-related businesses (such as retail trade and manufacturing) and tourism. In 2019, the GDP impact of outdoor recreation was $484,474,065 or 7.2% of total GDP; the direct job impact was 9,897 jobs or 11% of total jobs in Mesa County.


This study is relevant to those who are interested in estimating the economic impact of outdoor recreation at the county level. The authors measure the total economic impact of outdoor recreation in Mesa County by combining results from two different measures of the outdoor recreation economy: the economic impact of outdoor recreational businesses and the economic impact of outdoor recreation tourism. They claim that their study can serve as a model to apply research to other counties in Colorado and across the western United States. The authors note a limitation in their survey of outdoor recreation businesses: of the 150 businesses contacted, four major corporations that sell outdoor recreation goods did not respond. Since REI, Dicks Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Target did not participate, the total economic impact is likely an underestimate.


This study is located in Mesa County, Colorado.

Trail Type

This study is conducted in Mesa County, Colorado, where 72.9% of county land is managed by the federal government as open-access public land. Hundreds of miles of designated trails are used by resident and visiting hikers, mountain bikers, and motorized users throughout the year.


The purpose of this study was to estimate the effect of outdoor recreation (using business and tourism statistics) on the economy in Mesa County. Funding for this study was provided by the State of Colorado Office of Economic Development and Trade as well as Zoma Labs.


  • From the outdoor recreation business survey, authors found an estimated 2,299 full-time and 1,555 part-time employees and an estimate of $93,262,213 in total wages.
  • The outdoor recreation business industry contributes $190,673,455 to county GDP or 2.84% of the total GDP.
  • Combining the outdoor recreation business economic impact and tourism economic impact, authors find that the total direct economic impact of outdoor recreation is $321,625,137, or 4.8% of GDP in Mesa County. This is higher than the Colorado average economic impact of outdoor recreation at 3.1% of GDP, as reported by the BEA. 
  • When including indirect and induced effects, the GDP impact of total outdoor recreation is $484,474,065 or 7.2% of GDP and 11% of jobs in Mesa County. 


To estimate the economic impact of outdoor recreational businesses, the authors created a standard economic impact survey, including questions on wages, jobs, and expenditures that was sent to 150 businesses in Mesa County. The authors employed a software program called IMPLAN to analyze the economic impact data. IMPLAN is an Input-Output model that accounts for the relationships between different industries and all flows of economic activity, including government and household. IMPLAN also estimates leakages, supply chain effects, and multiplier effects. 

To estimate the economic impact of outdoor recreational tourism, the authors deployed a survey using the software Suzy, which is an app that identifies the target audience and removes non-realistic answers. Using the location-tracking services in the app, the survey was sent to 15,050 participants who could have traveled to Mesa County in the previous three years. After identifying respondents who visited for only outdoor recreation (they did not include those who traveled for business), they had 290 usable responses. A spending profile was estimated using the responses from Suzy, which was then extrapolated to an estimate of 3.1 million tourists each year in the area, which was calculated by the consulting firm Tourism Economics. The data was  entered into IMPLAN to estimate the economic impacts from outdoor recreation-related tourism. To minimize double counting in the final economic impact of both tourism and businesses, outdoor recreation spending by tourists on outdoor recreational goods and services was not counted in the tourism survey, since these expenditures were already counted in the profits and wages of the businesses survey. 


Added to library on November 7, 2023