Report identifies significant economic impact for all 50 states and the District of Columbia
A newly released report from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) demonstrates the vast economic impact of our nation’s local parks. According to the results of the Economic Impact of Local Parks report, the shared impact of operations and capital spending by U.S. local park and recreation agencies in 2019 resulted in nearly $218 billion in economic activity and $107 billion in added gross domestic product (GDP) and supported nearly 1.3 million jobs that paid salaries, wages and benefits totaling $68.4 billion. This is a conservative estimate that does not capture parks’ other economic benefits, including: higher real estate values, health and wellness benefits, conservation/resiliency benefits, tourism and other economic development activities.
Park and recreation professionals at the more than 10,000 agencies across the United States positively contribute to their communities in many different ways. Not only are parks leading the way in terms of health and wellness, equity, and conservation, but also they drive significant economic activity. Local park and recreation agencies employed more than 385,000 full-time and part-time employees in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That translates to almost $49 billion of operations spending by the nation’s more than 10,000 local park and recreation agencies. This spending — combined with capital expenditures — ripples through the national, regional and local economies as park and recreation employees spend their paychecks, park and recreation agency vendors hire workers, and both agencies and their vendors purchase products and services to serve their clients.
The report also includes a state-level analysis that highlights the economic impact of local parks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The top 10 states with the highest economic impact include:
- California – $23.6 billion
- Florida – $15.9 billion
- New York – $14 billion
- Texas – $12 billion
- Nevada – $11.1 billion
- Illinois – $9.9 billion
- Ohio – $7 billion
- Colorado – $7 billion
- Washington – $6.5 billion
- North Carolina – $6 billion
“We have always known that local parks and recreation provide significant value to communities through health and wellness, social, and environmental benefits. NRPA is proving, through these economic studies, that local park and recreation agencies and their dedicated staff continue to increase their impact as engines of economic activity,” said Kristine Stratton, NRPA president and CEO. “Policymakers and elected officials at all levels of government should recognize this and prioritize park and recreation funding in communities nationwide. The impact these investments provide are essential to the health and strength of our communities.”
Dr. Terry Clower, lead investigator for the study, observes: “Local park and recreation agencies are growing in economic importance, not only as generators of jobs and local business opportunity, but as major contributors to local quality of life.” Clower further notes that quality of life and the availability of recreation amenities is increasingly important for attracting and retaining workers and employers, which extends the economic impacts of park and recreation spending beyond what is captured in the current study.
NRPA joined forces with the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University in 2015, to conduct the first nationwide study on the economic impact of local park and recreation agencies’ operations and capital spending. Since then, NRPA and the Center for Regional Analysis have partnered three times to update that landmark 2015 research: in 2018, 2020 and 2022.
Preliminary estimates for 2020 show that parks and recreation remained resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, with $225 billion in economic activity and 1.25 million jobs supported in 2020. These results, combined with studies on the state and national park systems, are proof that public parks are robust engines of economic activity.
Public support for parks and recreation has never been stronger. According to NRPA’s 2021 Engagement With Parks Report, nearly nine in 10 people agree that it is important to fund local park and recreation agencies to ensure every member of the community has equitable access to amenities, infrastructure and programming. Additionally, 87 percent of people agree that parks and recreation is an important service provided by their local government.
To access the full report, visit www.nrpa.org/EconomicImpact.
To learn more about NRPA, visit www.nrpa.org.
About the National Recreation and Park Association
The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is the leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to building strong, vibrant and resilient communities through the power of parks and recreation. With more than 60,000 members, NRPA advances this mission by investing in and championing the work of park and recreation professionals and advocates — the catalysts for positive change in service of equity, climate-readiness, and overall health and well-being. For more information, visit www.nrpa.org. For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit www.parksandrecreation.org.