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Determining Economic Benefits of Park Trails: Management Implications

Chi-Ok Oh, William E. Hammitt

Abstract


Walking and day hiking on nature trails are popular activities that occur in most park and forest recreation areas, but the public commonly does not recognize trails as developed facilities that require design, construction and maintenance. Trail use impacts, such as tread and surface erosion, vegetation wear and disappearance, and trail widening, are costly repairs that need constant monitoring and maintenance. However, despite the rapid growth of the demand for park and recreational services, government budget cutbacks and public resistance to tax increases occurring over the last several decades have placed parks in a difficult financial situation. Providing park agencies with information regarding economic benefits derived from trail services and facilities will assist them in highlighting the importance of these services, justifying the need for more funds from the government, as well as supporting the implementation of revenue capture policies through user fees. Accordingly, the main focus of this study is to determine the economic values park visitors place on trail facilities and services at a state park using a nonmarket valuation tool. To estimate park visitors’ economic benefits of trail use, a contingent valuation method component was incorporated into the questionnaire. The sampling frame for this study included visitors to a state park in South Carolina. Of 543 visitors intercepted, 305 questionnaires were returned, and 248 responses were acceptable for the economic benefit analysis. Using the bivariate probit model, the estimated economic benefits for management and maintenance of park trails are $4.76 and the 95% confidence intervals are between $3.81 and $5.71. Decision makers are challenged with determining the feasibility of park maintenance and sustaining the current conditions of facilities. In particular, hiking is known to be one of the primary uses by individuals visiting parks but the provision of trail services have not kept pace with the management and maintenance needs given declining government budgets. Implications of how the study finding can be used for administration and management decisions are discussed in two different ways (1) fee-based revenue analysis and (2) cost-benefit analysis. Although this study is a case analysis involving trail use at one state park in South Carolina, the methods and results presented could be applicable to trail use at an array of local and state parks to estimate economic benefits of trail resources.?

Keywords


Park management, trial management, economic benefits, nonmarket valuation, contingent valuation method, outdoor recreation

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