Study finds state parks boost economy

Published 9:57 pm Friday, March 21, 2014

Alabama’s 22 state parks attract tourists from across Alabama and the country, and a recent study shows those park-goers have had a huge impact on the state’s economy.

The study, completed by Samuel Addy and Ahmad Ijaz of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce, claims visitors to the 22 Alabama State Parks spent an estimated $152.4 million in 2011.

The study found that together, visitors’ spending and expenditures by the parks system had a total economic impact of $375 million and supported 5,340 jobs.

Specific numbers regarding the monetary impact of Paul M. Grist State Park on Selma and Dallas County were not determined in the study, but several local officials said the park is a valuable asset to the community regardless of its’ exact economic impact.

Even without exact numbers on Grist’s economic impact, Selma-Dallas County Economic Development Director Wayne Vardaman said having a state park is beneficial to the city, county and region.

“This park is certainly an asset to the community,” Vardaman said. “Throughout the Black Belt one of our biggest assets is all of our natural resources, and in Dallas County we’ve got great fishing, camping and hiking, and Paul M. Grist State Park is certainly an important part of that.”

Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sheryl Smedley echoed Vardaman’s sentiment, saying it is another aspect of Dallas County she can promote when talking with people unfamiliar with the area.

“We promote the entire Selma and Dallas County area at the chamber,” Smedley said. “And it’s a great asset for us to have because it allows us to show people there is much more to do here than they knew.”

In a press release, Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said the statewide numbers were no surprise to him.

“This study confirms what we who work in the parks system already know – that state parks are valuable tools to promote the state’s economy,” Lein said. “But the study give us real numbers for state parks’ overall economic impact and the many public and private jobs that depend on them.”

Along with the state park survey, a recent report by the National Park Service said visitors to the seven national parks in Alabama spent $26.5 million in 2012 and their spending supported 381 jobs.

Lein said he is grateful for the park visitors who make their work possible.

“We really do rely heavily on our customers – campers, boaters, fishermen, bikers, golfers, etc. – to pay the bills,” Lein said. “We want them to know their dollars count in the parks and in the state’s economy.”

Lein also said the report was an initial study he hoped could be expanded in 2015 to include a survey of park guests to better understand their spending.