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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Marcus Buck, left, of Wild River Expeditions leads a group down the San Juan River for a tour of ancient American Indian dwellings and geological and archaeological sites. Some 15 percent of Utah residents do paddling activities such as kayaking, rafting and canoeing.

More than two-thirds of the American population participates in outdoor activities, be it biking, camping or wildlife viewing.

Here in Utah participation is even higher.

According to the latest findings of the Outdoor Industry Foundations, because of the range of activities, the quality and the "exceptional close-to-home" recreational opportunities, Utah has one of the highest participation rates in the country.

All this outdoor activity also contributes substantially to Utah's economy. Numbers from the latest foundation study shows outdoor recreation:

• Contributes $5.8 billion annually to the Utah economy.

• Supports 65,000 jobs.

• Generates nearly $300 million in annual sales tax revenue.

• Produces nearly $4 billion annually in retail sales services.

Broken down by activities and participation numbers, the study found here in Utah:

• Bicycling — 409,425 participants (25 percent of the population), to include paved and off-road riding.

• Camping — 761,579 participants (46 percent of the population), to include RV, tent and rustic lodging.

• Fishing — 375,196 participants (21 percent of the population), to include fly fishing and spin-casting.

• Hunting — 173,991 participants (10 percent of the population), to include shotgun, rifle and archery.

• Paddling — 246,132 participants (15 percent of the population), to include kayaking, rafting and canoeing.

• Snow sports — 310,393 participants (19 percent of the population), to include downhill, snowboarding, cross country and snowshoeing.

• Trail — 714,023 participants (43 percent of the population), to include trail running, day hiking, backpacking and rock climbing.

• Wildlife viewing — 562,000 participants (32 percent of the population), to include watching birds and wildlife.

How do these numbers compare with other states? In Colorado, more people bike (35 percent), but fewer camp (28 percent). In California, fewer camp (18 percent) and fewer hike (34 percent). In Idaho, about the same percentage camp (45 percent), but fewer hike (33 percent); and in Wyoming, about the same number camp (40 percent), but far fewer engage in paddling activities (9 percent).

As the report made note of, Utahns are lucky in that they have a wide range of activities to choose from, and many are close by.

For example:

• There are more than 400 miles of raftable rivers.

• Roughly 23 percent of the state is high-elevation country, featuring some of the most majestic mountains anywhere, and probably twice that amount of country is rugged, rocky desert-like area.

• There are more than 40 state parks, five national parks, six national monuments, two national recreation areas and one national historic site.

• There are more than 400 public and private campgrounds.

• Utah has about 1,000 fishable lakes and a similar number of streams and rivers.

• There are hundreds of miles of biking and hiking trails, many rated as being among the best in the world.

Consensus is that, in the months to come, there will be even higher participation in many of these activities in light of the rising fuel prices. People will be driving less and staying closer to home.

A report by the Travel Industry Association showed that while most respondents said they would continue with their travel plans, 41 percent said their plans would change if prices increase.

The report went on to indicate 38 percent would make shorter trips, 36 percent would take fewer trips and others would simply spend less on rooms, food, souvenirs and stay fewer nights.

Dave Williams, who oversees research for the Utah Office of Tourism, said those with financial means will continue to travel, but "vacationers may take shorter trips closer to home due to rising fuel costs."

The outdoor study found that people are drawn to outdoor activities for a number of reasons, including easy access, an easy learning curve, shorter time requirements, typically requiring only a single day, and those requiring less specialized technical gear.

Those requirements fit most all of Utah's more popular activities.

For example, those living along the Wasatch Front have hundreds of biking opportunities, ranging from lift-served, downhill riding at many of the state's ski areas to casual road rides.

Most of the 29 counties have published booklets pinpointing biking routes, both paved and dirt, difficulty and sights to see along biking routes.

There are a large number of camping opportunities that require little travel time and offer a lot of comforts, such as hot showers, level ground, tables, restrooms and shade. Wasatch Mountain State Park in Midway, for example, is one of the most popular parks in Utah for camping and is less than an hour's drive from populated areas.

Other camping and fishing opportunities exist at Echo, Deer Creek, Jordanelle, Strawberry, Rockport and East Canyon reservoirs.

Fishing is probably one of the most accessible and convenient activities on the outdoor list. Utah is the sixth-most urbanized fishing state in the United States, meaning waters within or close by populated areas. There are nearly 50 waters listed in 11 counties on the community fishing list.

This includes waters ranging from Utah Lake and the Provo River, both only minutes from nearby communities, to Willow Pond in Murray.

There is, as noted, no shortage of flat-water lakes and reservoirs for kayaking and canoeing, and Utah holds some of the best whitewater rivers in the country — Cataract and Westwater on the Colorado River, and Desolation on the Green River.

Hiking, the most popular activity in most states, Utah included, is possible within minutes of homes along the Wasatch Front, and by taking shorter drives to close-by mountains, state and national parks and rocky desert regions.

Rock climbing is among the newest activities. And Utah offers some of the best, most challenging climbing walls in the country, including Ogden's boulder field, Wall Street outside of Moab and the cliffs at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

And there is no arguing that Utah is snow country, with 13 world-class resorts and hundreds of miles of cross country, snowshoe and snowmobile trails.

All in all, those who enjoy outdoor activities, and are planning to stay closer to home this summer, won't have trouble finding something to do.

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