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Economic Impacts of State Parks: Effect of Park Visitation, Park Facilities, and County Economic Diversification

Maureen P. Donnelly, Jerry J. Vaske, Darla S. DeRuiter, John B. Loomis

Abstract


While the economic impacts of parks on regional economies are well documented, the factors that influence the magnitude of this impact have received less attention in the literature. This paper explores the contributions offour Colorado state parks to the rural county economies in which they reside. The combined influence of three indicators of economic impact (amount of park visitation, extent of park facility development, level of county economic diversification) was examined using an input-output model (IMP LAN). The model incorporated visitor trip expenditures and State Park operating/ capital and salary expenditures that the parks receive from State headquarters. Research questions addressed the influence of park visitation, facility development, and county economic diversification on direct visitor expenditures and overall amount of county economic impact (direct and indirect). By considering the combined influence of park and surrounding area attributes on the local economy, the goal is to empirically validate assumptions that exist in the literature.

The results supported previous research showing that state parks make significant contributions to local economies. While the average amount spent by park visitors per visit was relatively low, the cumulative effects of this spending were substantial. By understanding these direct and indirect contributions to local economies, managers are better positioned to argue for increased political and budgetary support.

Results also indicated that as park visitation increased, total visitor expenditures increased. Park visitation, however, was not the sole determinant of economic impact. Independent of visitation rates, the park with limited facilities produced lower direct visitor expenditures than the park with numerous facilities. This should not be interpreted to imply that all state parks should increase the number and type of facilities offered. Past research using these data suggest that visitors to undeveloped parks consistently gave the highest evaluations of their experience (Donnelly, Vaske, DeRuiter, & King, 1996). This suggests that although lesser developed parks result in lower economic impacts than those with more facilities, it is important to provide a full spectrum of recreation opportunities to meet the needs of various visitor segments. Moreover, some economic impacts are better than no economic impact.

While the results show that park attributes influenced the amount of direct visitor spending in an area, county economic diversification affected how much of these initial dollars remained in the local economy. Parks located in counties with a diversity of industries had higher multipliers than parks situated in remote areas having only one industry. Such findings imply that when assessing the economic impacts of state parks, it is necessary to not only examine the attributes of the park, but also to consider the level of economic diversification in the surrounding county.


Keywords


rural county economic impacts, park visitation, £'1cility development, county economic diversification, IMPLAN modeling

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