Leisure earns serious money in the United States. For America's national forests, that means the leaves aren't the only green they contribute to the nation.
America's trips to national forests and grasslands contributed $11 billion to the United States economy in 2012 from more than 160 million tourist visits, reported the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) National Visitor Use Monitoring Survey recently.
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The USFS report counted the money that tourists spent on lodging and other travel expenses to calculate the visitors' monetary benefits to local communities and the U.S. economy.
"When Americans spend time enjoying the great outdoors in our National Forests, everyone benefits," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. "Visitors reap the health and stress-reduction benefits that outdoor recreation activities provide, and tourism helps to strengthen the economic well-being of rural communities across the nation."
In comparison, U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics state that Americans spent $13.9 billion on motion pictures and the performing arts in 2012. Spectator sports scored in $7.32 billion, and gambling won $37.3 billion.
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However, the Bureau of Economic Analysis figures didn't include travel expenses, such as gasoline and parking, and other benefits to local economies so a perfect apples to apples comparison among USFS-related revenues, gambling, movies and sports wasn't possible. Since national forests don't charge entrance fees, the only means to calculate their benefit is through their contribution to local economies, whereas movies box office receipts can be tallied directly.
IMAGE: River rafting down rapids. (Robert Michael/Corbis)