Report: Local Parks Have Significant Economic Impact

The nation's local parks have a vast economic impact, according to a new report from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The Economic Impact of Local Parks report states that the shared impact of operations and capital spending by U.S. local park and recreation agencies in 2021 resulted in nearly $201 billion in economic activity and $196.8 billion in added gross domestic product (GDP). They also supported more than 1.1 million jobs that paid salaries, wages and benefits totaling $63 billion. This is a conservative estimate that does not capture parks’ other economic benefits, such as higher real estate values, health and wellness benefits, conservation/resiliency benefits, tourism and other economic development activities.

“Not only do park and recreation professionals work tirelessly to provide essential physical and mental health and environmental benefits to their communities, but the agencies in which they serve are also powerful engines of economic activity,” said Kristine Stratton, NRPA president and CEO. “This report demonstrates why policymakers and elected officials at all levels of government should prioritize park and recreation funding in communities everywhere now more than ever. The benefits these investments provide are critical to communities nationwide.” 

There are more than 10,000 park and recreation agencies across the United States, which 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 they also drive significant economic activity. Local park and recreation agencies employed nearly 326,000 full-time and part-time employees in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That translates to more than $41 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:

  1. California ($21 billion)
  2. Florida ($15 billion)
  3. Texas ($14 billion)
  4. New York ($10 billion)
  5. Illinois ($8 billion)
  6. Colorado ($7 billion)
  7. Ohio ($5 billion)
  8. Washington ($5 billion)
  9. Minnesota ($4 billion)
  10. North Carolina ($4 billion)

“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,” noted Dr. Terry Clower, lead investigator for the study, adding that quality of life and the availability of recreation amenities are increasingly important for attracting and retaining workers and employers, which extend 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.

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