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Outdoor Recreation Industry Given Boost by CU Boulder


The economic clout of outdoor recreation is motivating more and more states and municipalities to elevate the industry as a high priority for economic development – especially as they plan their recovery from the COVID recession. Recognizing this accelerating trend, the University of Colorado Boulder just launched a new graduate program to prepare students for careers in the outdoor recreation industry.


The U.S. outdoor recreation economy is an $800 billion dollar industry, employing more than 5 million people earning combined compensation totaling $226 billion. Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy is among the top performing in the U.S., generating over $12B in activity annually, and employing 149 million people with total compensation of $6.4B.


Growth in outdoor recreation has motivated seventeen states to form official offices of outdoor recreation or statewide outdoor recreation task forces. From Bend, OR, and Boulder, CO, to Roanoke, VA, hundreds of municipalities see outdoor recreation as a high priority opportunity for their economic recovery and beyond.


CU Boulder launched its new Outdoor Recreation Economy (ORE) program this spring. It's the only completely online graduate program of its kind in the nation, offering an industry-relevant education (degrees and certificates) taught by recognized leaders in the outdoor industry and in business.


The goals of the ORE faculty and curriculum are to empower students to become innovative leaders, foster sustainable business operations, govern and promote access to public lands, and leverage outdoor amenities to grow equitable and sustainable economies.


“Student growth and professional success are at the heart of this program’s design. Our goal is to offer flexible options so students, no matter their experience or background, can advance their careers in meaningful ways - whether they want to break into the outdoor recreation industry, pivot their career, or deepen their knowledge in order to move up in their current organization,” said Joel Hartter, associate professor and director of the Outdoor Recreation Economy Program.


The ORE program responds to an existing need for the outdoor recreation industry to evolve and create an inclusive talent pipeline for a diverse and innovative workforce. The program also supports the urgent need to rebuild state and local economies during and following the COVID pandemic.


Among other faculty hired recently for the program, Natalie Ooi joined ORE as the Senior Instructor in Community Economic Development. “As we look toward outdoor recreation as a way to build more sustainable and resilient communities, we must also consider how outdoor businesses and communities adapt to, and mitigate, climate change; how they can become more representative and inclusive; and how they can address issues of equity and access,” Ooi said.


CU Boulder’s Outdoor Recreation Economy program is now accepting applications and plans to welcome its first students in August. To request information about ORE from CU, click here.

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