Top 5 Recreational Activities in Ontario’s Greenbelt

An amazing 9.2 million people (or 3 million households) live within 20 kilometres of Ontario’s Greenbelt—that’s over a quarter of Canada’s whole population! 20 kilometres is the distance we consider to be “near home” for nature-based recreation, 73% of which occurs within this radius.

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Recently we set out to determine what recreational activities people are engaging in across the Greenbelt, and how much the Greenbelt’s waters and forests contribute to the well-being of our region—an assessment of value known as natural capital.

The term “natural capital” was created by economists concerned about the natural world; they argued that our environment is not protected as it should be, because so many natural benefits and services are not valued.

Just like other forms of capital, such as social and financial, natural systems produce a flow of goods and services. For instance, natural capital includes recreational opportunities, agriculture, water and air filtration, and flood control. By determining how much and how often we benefit from ecosystem services, we are able to measure their annual value within the traditional economy. In turn, we can use natural capital valuation to better manage and protect our precious natural systems.

In total, natural capital in the Greenbelt is valued at $3.2 billion each year. At $2.1 billion each year, recreation alone counts for two thirds of this value. The value of recreation is dependent upon the Greenbelt’s protected landscape; and also on people choosing to spend their time in the Greenbelt, contributing to the richness of our region and economy.

When people spend time in the Greenbelt, what are they up to? Here are the top 5 recreational activities!

No. 5: Fishing

21% of Ontarians fish, and 830,000 fish in the Greenbelt every year! Fishing is the 5th most popular recreational activity in Ontario’s Greenbelt and contributes a value of $180 million to our region each year.

No. 4: Birding

Birding is a serious business! Did you know the average birder spends 139 days per year participating in their recreational pastime? With 1.14 million people birding in the Greenbelt each year, that’s a lot of birds spotted! The annual value of birding in the Greenbelt is $205 million.

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No. 3: Cycling & Mountain Biking

It’s no surprise that the Greenbelt Route and multi-use trails attract many cyclists each year—1.5 million to be exact! 11% of Ontarians will hop on a bike to explore the Greenbelt’s many trails, vistas, culinary and historical experiences. These activities are valued at $236 million each year—close to the $244 million in flood protection for private property provided by the Greenbelt’s wetlands. 

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No. 2: Canoeing, Swimming & Paddle Boarding

Coming in at number two are “non-motorized water and beach” activities—that means swimming, canoeing, and paddle boarding—which draw 2.2 million participants into the Greenbelt every year. The second most popular activity is valued at $162 million, and engages 16% of Ontarians.

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Photo courtesy of Jeff McColl

And, finally, the number one activities in Ontario’s Greenbelt are…

No. 1: Hiking, Climbing, and Horseback Riding!

With 3.5 million participants each year, more than 10% of Canadians and 26% of Ontarians participate in hiking, climbing, and horseback riding along the Greenbelt’s many trails. These activities contribute an impressive $873 million to the economy wellbeing of the Greeneblt and the Greater Golden Horseshoe. 

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All of these activities and memories that we hold dear depend upon the protected landscape of Ontario’s Greenbelt—nearly 2 million acres stretching from Niagara to Northumberland and north to Tobermory.

Read our natural capital report to learn more!