What is fresh air worth? According to new government data, enough for the business of going outside to grow faster than the overall U.S. economy. This month, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis for the first time issued data on the nationâ€™s outdoor recreation economy. Its report found outdoor recreation was responsible for more than $412 billion, or about 2.2 percent, of the countryâ€™s gross domestic product in 2016. GDP related to outdoor recreation also had faster growth than the overall economy in 2016. Activities with the biggest economic footprint included many that are popular among Villagers: about $37 million from boating and fishing, more than $34 billion from game areas such as golf courses and tennis courts, more than $30 billion from recreational vehicle camping, and more than $25 billion from guided tours such as those the District Recreation and Parks Department offers on Lake Sumter.
â€śThe top three are very Florida,â€ť said Taylor Stein, an associate professor at the University of Florida with experience in ecotourism.
A spokesperson for the bureau said they only compiled national numbers for the report and did not have a breakdown by state or county.
But Stein said Florida is a driver of this national trend.
â€śIf you talk about boating and fishing, there is nowhere better â€” especially along the Eastern coast â€” to experience coastal and freshwater marine habitats,â€ť Stein said.
The Villages has clubs dedicated to both freshwater and deep sea saltwater fishing. Both organize at least one fishing trip a month.
These activities support businesses like marinas, boat charters, bait shops and local restaurants in fishing towns.
Steve Felix, whoâ€™s organized trips for The Villages Freshwater Fishing Club for nine years, said the challenge with fishing trips is many marinas limit the number of boats that members may rent. He tries to lead trips in places where members may take four to five boats out.
Giving those marinas the clubâ€™s business is important to their survival, he said.
â€śIf we donâ€™t support them, theyâ€™re not going to be there,â€ť said Felix, of the Village of Largo.
Villagersâ€™ involvement in the most economically important outdoor activities suggests Baby Boomers play a significant role in the statewide and nationwide growth, Stein said.
â€śThey grew up going to national parks and natural areas,â€ť he said. â€śThey have more time to do this, so they look to Floridaâ€™s natural areas and the coast for their outdoor recreation.â€ť
Apart from electric power boats, sailboats also are popular here.
The Villages Sailing Club has about 94 active members, and the number attending their day trips on lakes in or around the community is growing, club Commodore Steve Stein said.
â€śThe day charters that weâ€™ve organized in the past two years have been very successful with more than a quarter of the club sailing on four boats this past March,â€ť said Steve Stein, of the Village of Sabal Chase. â€śAnd the membership has requested that we do more day chartering.â€ť
At least 13 members have boats locally, he said.
Despite the interest, sailors deal with the challenge of few sailing-related businesses in Central Florida, Steve Stein said. That may make sailboat ownership and operation difficult.
â€śAll the local marinas are geared toward power boats and fishing and the closest place to rent a sailboat is on a small lake in Orlando,â€ť Steve Stein said. â€śOtherwise, one has to go to one of the coasts to rent a sailboat.â€ť
But for many residents looking for a calm cruise along the water to follow their outdoor pursuits, they may not need to travel far.
In March, the Villages Recreation and Parks Department launched guided kayak, fishing and nature pontoon boat tours on Lake Sumter.
So far, the tours generated about $12,000 in revenue for the district, said Kacie Linton, recreation manager of finance and operations.
But the pricing of the tours reflects the goal of enhancing the lifestyle of The Villages rather than making a profit, Recreation and Parks Director John Rohan said.
â€śIt is service-based,â€ť he said. â€śOur perspective and vision for this program is to provide another lifestyle service to the community in an organized and scheduled environment.â€ť
Tours are $25 per person for the kayak and pontoon boat tours and $250 for up to four people for the fishing tours, prices that Rohan said primarily cover the districtâ€™s operational expenses.
Even though outdoor recreation proves economically lucrative nationwide and in Florida, simply getting people outside accomplishes what the tours hope to achieve, he said.
â€śHaving this program in our community is a great fit due to our residentsâ€™ passion to explore the outdoors,â€ť Rohan said. â€śClose to home, yet provides an experience that is intimate and personal with Mother Nature.â€ť
Michael Salerno is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or firstname.lastname@example.org.