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Fee Hikes at State Parks in Georgia: Effects on Visitation, Revenues, Welfare, and Visitor Diversity

J. Wyatt Cothran, J. M. Bowker, Lincoln R. Larson, Rajan Parajuli, Jason W. Whiting, Gary T. Green


Public land management agencies that provide outdoor recreation opportunities face financial constraints. Raising access fees is one approach to enhance fiscal sustainability. However, increased access costs may reduce visitation. Actual visitation changes are contingent on visitors’ price sensitivity, and these changes will influence revenue collection, visitor composition, changes in visitor welfare, and local economic impacts. Importantly, higher entrance fees may disproportionately affect visitors of different ethnicities and individuals from low-income populations. In this study, we developed a travel cost model using data collected during 2010 from 1,309 visitors across three state parks in northern Georgia to estimate the structure of recreation demand and the effects of potential fee increases across diverse populations. Results were applied to simulate the effects of various entrance fee levels on park revenue, visitor diversity, and visitor welfare, accounting for differential responses to fee hikes across different racial/ethnic groups. We found visitor demand to the parks was largely inelastic, signaling that decreases in visitation effected by a modest fee increase (e.g., from $5 to $8) would lead to higher total revenues. At higher fee values, decreased visitation offset potential revenue gains. Hispanics were less sensitive to entrance fee hikes than other visitors, suggesting that shifting fee structures could also impact visitor composition. If fees were to increase at state parks, the proportion of Hispanic visitors at parks would likely grow. This means that Hispanics would bear a disproportionate share of the cost burden under increasing fee scenarios. Additionally, state park recreation demand was highest among low-income visitors, suggesting that fee increases could have particularly significant negative impact on that group. To balance the possibly competing agency objectives of revenue generation and increased diversity, park managers may benefit from greater ex ante information provided by an applied framework like that developed in this analysis. Such analyses are expected to better inform management and policy makers concerning the likely economic effects of variation in state park access costs, including disproportionate impacts on racial/ethnic minorities. 

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Price elasticity; Race/ethnicity; Recreation demand; State parks; Travel cost method; User fees

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