Report shows outdoor activities in Wisconsin increased during pandemic

Fishing license, park visits, sporting goods all on the rise

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As the COVID-19 pandemic kept people at home, often without work, the great outdoors became an outlet for many Wisconsinites. A recent report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum analyzed the impact of this trend in light of future state and local spending on parks and green space. But it also offers insight on how the pandemic has shaped consumer behavior, perhaps for the long run.

The WPF report shows state resident fishing license sales from March 2020 through January 2021 were up 13.2% compared to the same period a year prior, and first-time license sales more than doubled. Licenses sold to anglers from outside Wisconsin were up 6.1%.

In 2020, sales of state park vehicle stickers increased by more than 42% over 2019, with a 17.6% year-over-year boost in visits.

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The report noted several examples of specific outdoor activities that saw spikes during the pandemic. Sales of cross country ski permits for Madison’s parks nearly doubled those of any previous year; Birdwatching app eBird saw a 27% year-over-year increase in submitted checklists from Wisconsin; bike path counters show non-motorized traffic on the Racine County North Shore Trail and the New Berlin Trail were up 74.9% and 58.4%, respectively.

The boom in outdoor activity bled into consumer retail spending, which could “provide a modest clue” that the trend could stick around once the pandemic subsides, according to the report.

People are trying different activities to relieve their stress. Some have found therapeutic benefits of shooting guns at a gun range.

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Sales and use tax collections by sporting goods stores from March to October were up 26.4% over 2019. By comparison, general merchandise stores reported a 4% increase in sales and use tax collections over the previous year.

WPF cites data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showing that federal excise tax revenues on sportfishing equipment such as rods, tackle boxes, and motorboat fuel increased 68.8% in 2020 over 2019. Meanwhile, excise tax collections on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment increased 31.1%.

“While most of these increases clearly seem linked to greater outdoor activity, some caution is in order in interpreting the firearm sale data, as news outlets have widely attributed that increase at least in part to concerns around the pandemic and political unrest,” according to the WPF report.

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