5 Things We Learned from the Economic Impact of Local Parks Study

By Kevin Roth,Melissa May | Posted on November 24, 2015


11.24.15 Econ Impact 250NRPA released the results of the first economic impact study capturing the tremendous nationwide contribution that thousands of local and regional parks make to the U.S. economy. 

America’s local and regional public park agencies generated nearly $140 billion in economic activity and supported almost 1 million jobs from their operations and capital spending alone in 2013.

Beyond the headline numbers, there are five things that you should take away from The Economic Impact of Local Parks study.

1. Local and regional park systems contribute significant economic activity in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia.

As the level of spending on local and regional parks varies by state, so does the economic impact. To give you a better handle on these differences, we have put together a set of interactive maps and charts that show the economic impact and the number of jobs generated from the operations and capital spending of local and regional parks. 

  • Did you know the five states that generate the greatest per capita amount of economic impact from local and regional park spending are: Illinois, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota and Nevada?

2. When local and regional park systems are combined with state and national park systems, the economic power of public parks is remarkable.

While this is the first nationwide study on the economic impact of local and regional parks, other studies have measured the economic impact of the National Park Service and state park systems. While these studies have differing methodologies and project scopes, they tell a similar story: public parks are engines of economic activity and prosperity. When the spending at local and regional parks is combined with that of national and state parks, public parks are responsible for roughly $200 billion in annual economic activity. 

3. As impressive as the study results are, they are a conservative estimate of the full economic significance of local and regional parks.

This study focused exclusively on the economic impact of local and regional park agency spending.  As a result, the estimates of nearly $140 billion in economic activity that supports almost 1 million jobs understate the full economic impact that local and regional parks have on the U.S. economy. Other economic benefits of public parks not included in this study were:

  • Visitor spending
  • Environment
  • Health/wellness
  • Property values

4. The economic benefits are another in an already impressive list of benefits that local and regional parks bring to our communities.

We already know parks are important contributors to their towns, cities and regions. Millions of people personally benefit from their local and regional park agencies in many ways — gathering places to meet with friends and family, open spaces to exercise and reap the benefits of clean air and water, and community resources where one can connect to others and nature. These benefits manifest themselves in NRPA’s Three Pillars.

The combination of the Three Pillars and the nearly $140 billion in annual economic activity and almost 1 million jobs reaffirms what we know about our parks agencies:  local and regional park and recreation agencies are important assets that turn our neighborhoods into vibrant, connected and healthier communities that also spark economic prosperity throughout our nation.

5. The study results are a new tool for park and recreation professionals to use as they advocate for public parks.

From local officials ensuring dedicated public park funding to Congress and the White House securing the permanent authorization and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the message is clear: Investments in public parks are investments for a better tomorrow. 

You already have a strong message when noting that public parks are on the forefront of Conservation, Health and Wellness and Social Equity.  But now, you can also point to these study results to highlight investments in local and regional parks also spark economic activity that ripples well beyond the initial spending to create jobs and prosperity in our communities and throughout our nation. 

We suggest sharing the executive summary edition of the report with your jurisdiction’s leaders so they too will know about the economic power of local and regional park systems. 

How will you use the findings from the economic impact report? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @NRPA_News using #ParksMeanBusiness. 


Kevin Roth is NRPA's Vice President of Research.

Melissa May is NRPA's Research Specialist.