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


  • J. Wyatt Cothran Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
  • J. M. Bowker USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, 320 Green Street, Athens, GA, USA
  • Lincoln R. Larson Department of Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9591-1269
  • Rajan Parajuli Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
  • Jason W. Whiting Department of Recreation Administration, California State University, Fresno, CA, USA
  • Gary T. Green Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA




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


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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Author Biography

Lincoln R. Larson, Department of Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

Dr. Lincoln Larson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management at North Carolina State University. He has earned degrees in Biology (B.S., Duke University), Forest Resources (M.S., University of Georgia), and Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism (Ph.D., University of Georgia). Before coming to NC State in 2017, he worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the Human Dimensions Research Unit of Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources and as an Assistant Professor in teh Dept. of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Managment at Clemson University. At NC State, Dr. Larson’s teaching and research focus on characterizing and managing interactions between humans and the natural environment. His work, which is supported by a variety of federal and state government agencies (e.g., National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service) and nongovernmental organizations, is designed to help students, scientists, land managers, and the general public understand, communicate, and collaboratively respond to emerging challenges facing parks and protected areas. Dr. Larson has worked with student advisees and colleagues from many disciplines to publish more than 50 journal articles, technical reports, and book chapters covering a range of topics including human dimensions of natural resource management, nature-based recreation and associated health benefits, and environmental education. His undergraduate and graduate courses at NC State reflect his diverse experience and interdisciplinary approach to natural resource recreation planning and management.





Special Issue: Social Justice Issues in Park and Recreation