Bolstered by a new report touting their economic impact, owners of Sonoma County outdoor recreation companies this week said they want to join forces to encourage more tourists to hop on a bike, mount a horse or paddle a kayak.
The outdoor industry employs an estimated 4,300 people and adds $731 million a year to the economy, according to a new report released Wednesday by the county’s Economic Development Board.
Business owners say such numbers suggest a significant contribution to the county. They maintained that by working together they can better highlight the many outdoor activities that might appeal to travelers arriving to sample premium wines, craft beers and artisan foods.
“There’s a huge opportunity with the tourists that are already coming,” said Kevin Jorgeson, a Santa Rosa native who made a historic 19-day climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan in 2015 and now is preparing to open a state-of-the art climbing center in the city called Session.
Jorgeson and about 80 other industry members came together Wednesday for the county’s first Outdoor Recreation Summit. The gathering was held in Petaluma at outdoor equipment maker CamelBak.
Participants learned that Levi’s Granfondo, a major local cycling event, this fall will expand to include a music and craft beer festival in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square.
Along with rides for an estimated 5,000 cyclists, the Oct. 5-7 extravaganza is slated to include two days of ticketed venues and a third free day with music, beer and a farmers market.
The 10th annual granfondo will provide “something that’s much more representative of all Sonoma County has to offer,” said Carlos Perez, owner of Bike Monkey, the event’s producer.
Outdoor recreation is considered among the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., the county report stated. Nationally it generated $887 billion in direct spending, a 37 percent increase in the last five years, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
In California, outdoor recreation accounted for $92 billion in spending and the employment of 691,000 workers.
The local sector takes in a wide swath of outdoor recreation enthusiasts. It includes the 2,200 endurance athletes who came from around the world last July to compete in the Ironman Santa Rosa triathlon, as well as those who this morning walked the links of any of the county’s 16 golf courses.
It also features local manufacturers like Camelbak and Marmot, the latter a premium outdoor clothing maker based in Rohnert Park.
The county increasingly is becoming known as a magnet for endurance runs and cycling events, including next month’s Lake Sonoma 50, a 50-mile run along the lake featuring more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain and several hundred competitors.
Many attractions report growth. Sonoma Canopy Tours began in 2010 and now hosts more than 20,000 visitors a year, said Jim Blake, executive director of the Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds. Its guests take a 2.5-hour tour on multiple zip lines and sky bridges in the redwood-covered hills near Occidental.
Parts of the local sector belong to the county’s $1.93 billion tourism industry, which accounts for one in 10 workers here. For decades, many county visitors have come to sample premium wines, but the area also has gained a reputation for artisan food makers and for restaurants featuring natural and organic foods from local farms.
At Wednesday’s outdoor summit, a local tourism official urged the business owners to take part when members of the Outdoor Writers Association of California convene next month in the county.