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Economic study shows outdoors are big business

While many who live in Alabama's Black Belt often speak of the area's beauty, outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing means big business to much of the region.

For residents of Alabama’s Black Belt, the outdoor recreational activities, such as hunting and fishing, are near and dear to their heart and a crucial part of their very lives.

One organization recently did a study to show just how important the outdoors is to the Black Belt.

Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association recently released its findings on the economic impact that the Black Belt’s hunting, fishing and recreational activities have on Alabama’s economy.

Pam Swanner, project director with Alabama Black Belt Adventures, said the study was done to find out just how important the industry is to the area and come up with ways to continue to capitalize on it.

“This initiative was launched to harness the outdoor recreational opportunities in the region, and understanding and realizing that it is the economic development tool for the area,” Swanner said. “There’s not a lot of industry, not a lot of smokestacks [in the area], but we do have an abundance of wildlife and recreational opportunities — not just the aggressive sports activities, such as hunting and fishing, but also passive recreation like canoe trips down the Alabama River or bird watching, hiking or horseback riding. There’s just a plethora of outdoor recreational opportunity in this region.”

Swanner added the study was done to come up with concrete numbers for the Black Belt region, specifically in order to continue harnessing those resources.

“We’ve known for a long time that the outdoor recreation has been a sustainable economic development tool for the citizens in this area and we wanted to have some kind of a basis to support those ideas that it does support the region,” Swanner said. “A number of national studies have been conducted for a number of years now and it was always national specific and each individual state had their own particular economic impact study associated with that study, but we wanted to fine tune it to the Black Belt region because we do know that if you’re going hunting in Alabama, you’re going to go to the Black Belt region. Fishing is also an opportunity. So we wanted to harness that, put it into a report format that gives us the numbers that we like to work with and it also gives us a starting point to measure our success as we move forward with this initiative.”

According to the study, about 456,290 hunters and anglers in the Black Belt spend $3,224,894 a day on their respective hobbies.

That’s compared to a total of 707,000 hunters and anglers that spend $5 million a day in the entire state.

The study goes on to say that sportsmen’s spending in the Black Belt credits an estimated 10,989 jobs, with salaries and wages of $283 million and state and local taxes of $60 million, adding the annual spending by Black Belt sportsmen has a direct and indirect impact of $972 million. That is more than Alabama’s catfish and peanut industries produce each year.

Roundtree Outdoors owner Chet Chappelle said it’s no surprise local outdoorsmen are so dedicated to the hobby.

“I feel like the local people around here in the Black Belt are going to spend the money. That’s a hobby that they love and they’re going to spend the money to support that hobby and I think it’s a great hobby,” Chappelle said. “I think being in the outdoors is something that I think every family should do. It’s something good. Being with nature, it’s just a relaxing atmosphere getting away from the city and the cars and the cellphones and the computers and stuff, and just enjoying God’s creation.”

Chappelle added the outdoors industry is so important to the area considering that hunters, anglers and others come from all around to visit the Black Belt and they usually buy gas and stay in hotels in the area among other things.

“It’s very important, from the City Marina to your local hunting lodges and everything. It plays a huge impact for your local economy,” Chappelle said. “You have people who come from all over the United States to come to this little area here in central Alabama just to deer hunt. I think it’s very big.”