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Great Outdoor$

From behind the counter of his family's Grants Pass gun-and-tackle shop, Dave Bradbury sells access to the outdoors one jar of PowerBait or one pair of boots at a time.

Lures for salmon fishermen, new shotguns for spring turkey hunters and wrap-around sunglasses for mountain bikers have added up over time to keep the doors to Bradbury's Guns-N-Tackle open for the past 37 years.

"People here enjoy the outdoors, especially over the past four or five years, when they want to do things that don't cost a lot of money," Bradbury says. "They all buy stuff, and they all have to eat. They're a force."

Bradbury's customers — along with the millions of other people who play in the Oregon outdoors — support a $12.8 billion industry in the Beaver State, providing jobs for 141,200 Oregonians, a new study shows.

The gaudy figures come from the Outdoor Industry Association, which has quantified the economic impact of outdoor recreation in the United States, as well as for each state.

Americans spend $646 billion annually on outdoor recreation, directly supporting 6.1 million jobs that produce $80 billion in taxes, according to the OIA. That makes the outdoors industry more economically important than sectors such as construction, transportation, pharmaceuticals and oil and gas, according to OIA.

In Oregon, the outdoors generates $4 billion in wages and $955 million in state and local taxes, according to OIA.

More than 140 million Americans take to the woods and waters for recreation annually, and the money they spend can be overlooked for the economic force that it is, says Mike McMullen from Black Bird Shopping Center in west Medford.

"They've been gone for four years, but they're back," McMullen says. "For a long time, they were buying just the essentials. Big-ticket items were real quiet for a few years. But the economy's a little better now, and people have a little extra money to do what they want to do — enjoy the outdoors."

"They're playing with their fishing rods again; they're getting their reels spooled," he says. "They're back."

And their financial clout has never been greater.

OIA research shows that the national outdoor-recreation economy grew approximately 5 percent between 2005 and 2011 — during an economic recession that caused many other sectors to contract, according to OIA spokeswoman Kate Fielder.

This shows that Americans continue to make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives — even in times of economic hardship — because it is a relatively inexpensive way to spend time with family and friends, pursue a healthy and active lifestyle, and relieve stress, Fielder says.

In 2011, the most recent data OIA has gathered, outdoor recreation reached its highest level in five years, Fielder says.

"That's great, because I worry about the younger generation, with their iPads and iPhones and other i-things," says Jim Bittle, president of Medford-based Willie Boats, which targets the fishing and pleasure-boating community.

"You don't seem to see as many young anglers as you used to," Bittle says. "Those (OIA) numbers are great, but we need to pay more attention to the younger generation coming in."

Outdoor recreation creates diverse jobs in product development, manufacturing, marketing, logistics, sales, retail, public-land management, guiding services and more, according to the study. It also supports service-sector and other jobs when people spend money on trips and travel-related expenses associated with outdoor pursuits, the OIA says.

The new data is an expansion of a study OIA conducted in 2006, and it tracks direct jobs as well as direct consumer spending on gear, vehicles, trips and travel in 10 activity categories.

OIA commissioned Southwick Associates, a Florida-based research firm that specializes in shooting sports, hunting, angling, natural resources and environmental economics, to perform the research.

From behind the counter at Bradbury's, it's hard to see the big picture painted by OIA's research. Dave Bradbury is on the front lines of the outdoor industry, so he sees just one snapshot at a time in the massive collage that is created by the sprawling outdoors industry.

OIA research shows that 68 percent of Oregonians spent time in the woods and on the waters at least once in the past year, and they spent twice as much for outdoor activities than they did for prescription drugs.

"Those are good numbers," Bradbury says. "It's really interesting. There are so many aspects to this."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MarkCFreeman

Rafting guide Arden Prehn of Momentum River Expeditions in Ashland leads Jim Kleckner, Denise Kleckner and Jennifer Kleckner down Nugget Falls on the Rogue River near Gold Hill. A new study says outdoors recreation employs more Americans than transportation, education or construction. - Jamie Lusch