By Bob Wagner and Carl Silverstein, GUEST COLUMNIST Published 7:17 a.m. ET April 27, 2018
When we talk about conservation and the environment, we often talk about the personal sacrifices we make to live more sustainably. However, caring for the planet is about more than altruism — it’s also good business, with demonstrable economic benefits.
For those of us living in Western North Carolina the payback for our environmental efforts is profound: tons of outdoor recreation opportunities and a vibrant local economy. Outdoor recreation in North Carolina generates $28 billion in annual consumer spending, pays $8.3 billion in wages and creates 7.6 million jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Nationwide, the great outdoors dwarf other industries like pharmaceuticals, fuel and professional sports. WNC’s mountain trails and rivers support 178 outdoor businesses across the 5th, 10th and 11th U.S. Congressional districts.
To better understand how recreation-conservation dollars circulate through our economy, let’s start our adventure with a supply run. If you’re in Boone, maybe you pick up some trail running shoes at Footsloggers. Or, if you need to get your mountain bike tuned up, check out Magic Cycles, the Hub in Brevard, Motion Makers in Sylva, Epic Cycles in Black Mountain or one of more than a dozen bike shops in Asheville.
Now look down on your trusted steed: many mountain bikers swear by components from Cane Creek or wheelsets by Industry Nine. Both are located right here in Western North Carolina and employ local designers, engineers and builders respectively.
If you’re looking for some sweet treats for the trail, drop by Mast General Store. Dating back to 1883, these iconic shops carry nearly everything you need for a day in the mountains – including a vast selection of old-fashioned candies. This employee-owned company has grown to nine locations throughout the Southeast with five in WNC, employing 349 fulltime and part-time people.
On the trail, you may not see another person for miles, but proof of our region’s outdoor conservation economy is just below the tread of your tire … and everywhere around you. Our network of trails connects a vast patchwork of public lands, each with a professional staff dedicated to managing our forests and beautiful native wildlife habitats. That’s why groups like MountainTrue advocate for responsible public lands management of our 1.2 million acres of public forests.
Once at the summit, the views remain unspoiled far beyond the borders of our state and national forests and parks thanks to the hard work of land trusts, like the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC). Roan Mountain, Hump Mountain, the Rough Creek Watershed and parts of Mt. Mitchell State Park owe their protected status to SAHC’s efforts.
Although invisible in the landscape, investments here also support skilled labor related to conservation transaction costs – employing local surveyors, appraisers, lawyers, environmental scientists, and civil engineers. Federal and state grants, and philanthropic donations raised by conservation organizations, inject capital into our economic ecosystem and contribute to living wage, professional careers.
Off the trail and back in civilization, adventurers can replenish spent calories at one of our region’s fantastic restaurants, quench their thirst with a beer from one of the 63 breweries in the Asheville Brewers Alliance, and grab a late-night slice of Highland Mocha Stout Cake from the famous French Broad Chocolate Lounge, made with beer from Highland Brewing, locally produced eggs, dairy, grass-fed butter and a buttercream made with locally roasted coffee from PennyCup Coffee Co. — one of 136 local vendors that French Broad Chocolate supports.
The dollars generated by our recreation-conservation economy end up in the paychecks of bike shop mechanics and component engineers, retail workers, land managers, surveyors, ecologists, brewers, bartenders, coffee roasters, waiters, farmers, designers and delivery persons. These dollars are earned and re-spent at local businesses, contributing to our tax base and recirculating so that every single person in our region benefits. That’s why Mast General Store and other businesses give back, supporting conservation by donating a portion of sales on Land Trust Day/National Trails Day in early June. They know investing in conservation is good business sense.
We all have a stake. So, let’s keep our economic ecosystem healthy by investing in keeping our natural ecosystem healthy and beautiful. Visit www.govtrack.us and contact your U.S. senators and representatives and ask them to support more federal funding for our national forests and parks. You can also visit www.ncleg.net/representation/whorepresentsme to contact your North Carolina lawmakers and ask them to fund the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and Agriculture Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. Let them know that our jobs depend on it.
By Bob Wagner is the co-director of MountainTrue. Carl Silverstein and the Executive Director of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.