The “Quiet Economy” has a telling impact on Jackson County’s economy. And, according to Chris Hardie, former Black River Area Chamber of Commerce director, the “Quiet Economy” could be expanded through enterprises catering to the silent sport industry.

Hardie offered suggestions for capitalizing on recreational opportunities offered by the Black River at the Jan. 10 Friends of the Black River meeting. His presentation covered the economic impact the Black River has had and can continue to have on the area.

“The river has long had an economic impact on the region, especially during the lumber era when billions of board feet of pine were harvested and floated down the Black River to saw mills in La Crosse,” said Hardie. “Today, the river’s main importance is recreational, providing the base for a variety of activities from fishing to boating and canoeing and kayaking.”

The logging era was a major economic boom for the area in the nineteenth century.

“The 1837 treaty opened the forests to logging,” said Hardie. “Thirteen sawmills sent 300 million board-feet down the river by 1873. In today’ economy, the lumber taken out of Jackson County forests would be worth more than $2.5 billion.”

Although today’s recreational activities might not have the same level of economic impact as the logging industry of the nineteenth century, the activities could be an economic driver for the area. Hardie cited data from the Outdoor Industry Association that found those engaged in outdoor activities nationwide produced $17.9 billion in spending annually.

“The quiet economy attracts highly-educated people and they spend money, an average of $468 per trip,” said Hardie. “With silent sports, they come, they enjoy and spend money and then they leave. They support jobs and don’t stress the infrastructure as much as other development.”

A study conducted in the Ashland, Bayfield and Sawyer counties showed the recreational opportunities available in those counties brought in a significant number of visitors.

“Ninety-five percent of participants were from outside the area,” said Hardie. “Nonresidents spent $26.4 million in 2012 in total trip spending in the three counties. The number one activity here is outdoor recreation. We have the assets and it’s not just the Black River; it’s the streams. You have to go a long ways north to get the same experience. Here we have the Northwoods closer to home.”

Starting at Rib Lake and flowing to its confluence with the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Black River is the 10th longest river in Wisconsin. Hardie suggested the 190-mile-long Black River could become a state part of a water network as a possible economic resource.

“Why not designate the Black River as a water trail?” asked Hardie. “It could be an interpretive route with a network of access points.”

By means of those access points, water trail users could take in amenities such as campsites and enjoy local attractions along the river as they experience the natural beauty through a mode of travel used even before recorded history.

Catering to the visitors would be an important part of a mix that could include businesses providing guided trips as well as sporting goods suppliers, groceries and restaurants.

“I was recently approached by someone with just that sort of idea,” said Black River Falls administrator Brad Chown. “The idea is out there.”

Other ideas could be creating development near the river and use of social media to attract visitors or new residents who want to unplug.

Hardie’s presentation was part of FBR’s ongoing mission to bring educational programs about environmental issues, conservation and enjoyment of the natural world to the community.

For more information about the program and FBR, email info_fbr@yahoo.com.

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