Outdoor Recreation Driving Population Boom in Rural Areas | Pew Trusts

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Every year, more people are moving to small towns tucked in the Flathead Valley so they can choose from a range of outdoor activities — camping, hiking, riding their bikes, even kayaking or skiing — throughout the year. Flathead County first hit 100,000 residents last year, after growing by about 10 percent since 2010, according to U.S. census estimates. It’s the state’s second-fastest growing county, after Gallatin County, home of Montana State University, and one of the fastest-growing rural counties with populations over 25,000 in the United States.

While many rural counties have been shrinking for years, others with strong recreational industries, such as mountainous western towns where people can take a quick hike or southern states with year-round golfing weather, have been growing rapidly. These populations are growing as it becomes easier to work from anywhere, and as more people retire and move away from the city.

The trend is part of what drove the overall slight growth of the rural population in the United States from 2016 to 2017, for the first time since 2010, according to a Stateline analysis of census data. (Rural counties are those defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as outside cities and their suburbs.) The population in rural counties grew by only about 33,000 during that time, to about 46 million. While counties with large mining and farming industries shrank, counties with large recreation industries grew the most, by about 42,000, to about 6.3 million.

MoBikeFed comment: We have been working with a number of rural communities and agencies around Missouri who have realized this is true: To be competitive nationally and internationally, and to attract tourism dollars, retain and increase population, and attract businesses, rural Missouri communities need to develop a full range of outdoor recreation opportunities.

People like to live where they can walk and bicycle.

Rural Missouri communities often feature recreational opportunities like hunting, fishing, camping, and boating. When trails, bicycling, and walking are added to this mix it reaches a broader population base and makes areas even more attractive as outdoor recreation destinations and regions.

Communities that offer these options, and cater to a broad population of outdoor recreation lovers, grow and thrive.