Written by Shawndra Russell
Enjoying all the outdoor thrills and sights that Western North Carolina has to offer starts with having the right gear and the right guidance from the professionals at area outfitters. Among them: Outdoor 76, Diamond Brand Outdoors, Diamond Brand Gear, Curtis Wright Outfitters, Misty Mountain, Black Dome Mountain Sports, Nantahala Outdoor Center, and Liquidlogic.
Each year, the outdoor recreation industry rakes in about $900 billion in consumer spending, outpacing both the oil and gas industries. And according to the Outdoor Industry Association, about 3% of that activity happens in North Carolina, generating $1.3 billion in tax revenue and over $8 billion in wages and salaries. With the state’s newly-formed NC Outdoor Recreation Industry Office—making North Carolina one of only eight states to have such an entity and the first in the South—the state’s $28 billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry will certainly grow under the tutelage of David Knight, former Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources for North Carolina and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University. This new office will focus, in part, on recruiting more recreation businesses to the state, working alongside current owners and advocates, and motivating the 44% of state residents who don’t currently play outside to get off the couch.
Western North Carolina’s great outdoors have certainly helped push North Carolina’s outdoor industry to new heights, racking up accolades like #Outdoor# magazine dubbing Asheville the “Best Summer Day” city in 2017 and Matador Network proposing in 2016 that “Asheville might just be the top outdoors town in America.” The region also has its own coalition, Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina, a 30-member group that’s been showcasing our area as the East Coast’s hub for outdoor gear manufacturers since 2013.
Asheville also hosted the Asheville Confluence Summit in early July, when leaders from the eight outdoor recreation powerhouses of Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming, and North Carolina gathered. Collectively called the “ORec 8,” the group aims to host regular summits to develop principles related to four areas: economic development, conservation and stewardship, education and workforce development, and public health and wellness. July’s summit marked yet another milestone for our outdoor recreation industry since it was only the second time these leaders have gathered to further strengthen their collective vision to grow and protect the outdoor industry sector.
It’s worth noting that the twice-annual gathering of outdoor recreation enthusiast and vendors, Overland Expo, will be staging the November 9-11 event at REEB Ranch near Asheville and Hendersonville. Overland Expo East will not only feature more than 150 exhibitors, there will also be 175 classes in everything from how to properly prepare a pack for camping and hiking and “cool campcraft for kids” to off-roading instruction and adventure/landscape photography.
Certainly, more work can be done to grow this sector faster and easier in Western North Carolina as evident at a recent local meeting with Director Knight as part of his statewide listening tour. Many recreation leaders shared their ideas for growing the recreation industry in WNC, including:
- Increasing international marketing efforts
- More flexibility about how cities can use occupancy tax funds
- Higher wages
- Improved insurance policies
- High-speed internet throughout WNC
- More lodging options
- Instilling a love of the outdoors in area youth through discounts and programs
As lawmakers, entrepreneurs, and officials look to address these issues, many of us will spend the summer enjoying all the adventures to be had in our area’s vast array of mountains, waterways, and forests. In between adventures, we’ll hunt for our next piece of outdoor gear to add to our ever-growing collections so that the next time we head outside, it’ll be even better than the last.
To help you get the most of your time outdoors, we’ve collected over 40 area outfitters, manufacturers, and retailers that stock new or used gear or lead guided expeditions and educational experiences.
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