State parks attendance declines in past year, says annual report
State parks remain a vital part of the nation’s recreation activities, in spite of government budget woes. The total number of visitors to state parks in the United States reached 727 million in 2008-2009, which is down a little from the 747.9 million visitors to state parks in 2007-2008.
Visitor counts and other state park data are in the latest edition of the “Annual Information Exchange” (AIX), which is produced by the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) in cooperation with North Carolina State University. Both day and overnight visits in fee and non-fee areas are tabulated in the NASPD reports.
According to Chrystos Siderelis, who is a co-principal investigator on the team that produces the AIX report, annual visitation trends in state parks “display a somewhat volatile pattern in the 8.4 million to 9.2 million range. For the 50 state park systems, we project a 1.5 percent growth in visitation for 2010.”
Total operating expenses for state parks reached almost $2.23 billion in 2008-2009. By comparison, operating expenses in 2007-2008 totaled $2.33 billion, an increase of about $65 million over the $2.26 billion in operating expenditures for 2006-2007.
Siderelis forecasts a 9.7 percent decline in state park operating expenditures for 2010, followed by an increase in 2011. Operating expenditures, however, have been growing on a long-term basis. “Since 1986, operating expenditures increased year-over-year an average of 4.5 percent,” says Siderelis. Besides serving on the AIX project team, Siderelis produces a separate letter that interprets the AIX data for state park personnel.
The AIX report defines park and recreation areas to include parks, recreation areas, and natural areas; historic sites; environmental education areas; scientific areas; forests, fish and wildlife preserves; and other and miscellaneous areas.
The AIX offers state-by-state data for a variety of other topics, including capital expenditures, parks’ share of state expenditures, user fees, revenue sources and personnel. Copies can be requested from the AIX project team at 919-515-3276.
Parks managers will find a variety of uses for the AIX report, says Yu-Fai Leung, who is the principal investigator on the AIX project team. “Park directors can use the AIX data to put their parks in the regional or national context. The data set enables benchmarking on a range of issues, such as facilities, attendance, fees, expenditures, personnel, etc.,” Leung told Govpro.com.
Phil McKnelly, NASPD’s executive director, outlined a few other ways that parks officials can use the AIX report, including:
- 1. Identify trends in such areas as visits, visitor activities and preferences in overnight accommodations.
- 2. Identify new methods of or different approaches to financing operations and capital improvements.
- 3. Comparing sources of user fees and the prices of visitor services.
- 4. Some states do additional calculations to develop such statistics as per capita cost for the operation of individual parks and park systems.
For more information on the NASPD, go to the NASPD web site.