Idaho’s state parks contributed $184 million to the state’s economy in 2016, according to a new study.
“Our mission is not to generate money for the state general fund,” said David Langhorst the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation director. “But since we do it’s probably a good thing to remind folks of.”
For every dollar Idaho taxpayers pay toward the parks, $54 is returned to the economy, according to the study.
The IDPR board commissioned the study, Langhorst said. It’s the first time the state has looked at the economic impact of its parks.
“During the great recession there was some discussion about the value of state parks and the role of state governments in providing recreation,” he said. “And we weren’t really prepared to speak to what value we offer.”
The parks department receives 10 percent to its budget from Idaho’s general fund – or $3.4 million. Prior to 2010-11 budget cuts the parks department received 25 percent of its budget from the general fund.
“We’ve bootstrapped ourselves out of the great recession by offering more diverse services,” he said.
The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation surveyed nearly 10,000 day use and overnight visitors in 2016.
Based on that information, researchers at Boise State estimated visitors spent $127 million on groceries, meals, fuel, lodging, recreation, retail and other items in communities near the parks.
Additionally, the parks created 3,039 jobs in nearby towns. Those jobs earned Idahoans $89 million in wages, salaries and benefits, according to a news release from IDPR.
Idaho has 30 state parks, equaling 60,000 acres. In 2016, there were 5.5 million visitors.
“We help those small rural economies where most of our parks are located,” Langhorst said.
The establishment of parks in the U.S. was historically seen as a potential economic driver, according to a 2010 National Recreation and Park Association study. However, often state and municipal park departments didn’t look at economic impact – instead focusing on more limited financial impacts.
During recessions and budget cuts, parks departments often are the first to be slashed. A better way of looking at a park’s impact is to look at the full economic picture, argues the same 2010 study.
Outdoor recreation is a growth industry, nationally and locally. Idaho’s outdoor recreation industry generated $7.8 billion in 2017, according to an Outdoor Industry Association’s analysis. Nationwide the outdoor recreation industry generated $887 billion, according to the report.
Langhorst said he will share the results of IDPR’s study at the annual budget hearing, Thursday.
If anyone thinks cutting the parks department budget is a good way to save tax dollars, Langhorst said the study shows “they would actually have less money not more.”