Before You Go - November 2015
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Promoting Exercise
NRPA Identifies How Local Parks Generate Value

By Deborah L. Vence


We know how much beauty and enjoyment our local and regional public parks bring, but the economic value they generate is even more compelling.

Preliminary findings of a recent economic impact study commissioned by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation and conservation efforts, revealed that the nation's local and regional parks generate nearly $140 billion in economic activity per year and support nearly 1 million jobs.

"These numbers should be a wake-up call to the elected officials in Congress that they must act now to protect the nation's local parks and recreation," stated Barbara Tulipane, president and CEO of the NRPA, in a September press release. "We've always known that local parks contribute to healthier communities, bring diverse populations together and support environmental conservation and stewardship. Now, we also know for a fact that local parks contribute significantly to the economy, further solidifying their essential value as important public assets that deserve support and recognition."

At issue is the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance Program—a program that the nation's local and regional public parks have benefited from for 50 years. The program expired Sept. 30.

In a recent interview, Kevin O'Hara, vice president of urban and government affairs for NRPA, said the association is very disappointed that Congress didn't act to reauthorize the program, but remains optimistic that Congress will make it happen by the end of the calendar year and ensure that the law is permanently reauthorized and fully funded.

O'Hara stressed that the NRPA staff has been "eminently involved" in pushing for the law's reauthorization and is in constant contact with the authors of the bill.

Moreover, the NRPA also is asking members to use social media to continue emphasizing how important the law is to their communities, and inform elected officials how the LWCF has provided necessary federal funding for the creation and preservation of parks and public spaces.

In fact, research findings have shown that social media is grabbing the attention of members of Congress. In addition, other ways the NRPA suggests encouraging the fund's importance is by using visuals, through pictures of parks, for example, showing those that have benefited from the LWCF. (To learn more about the NRPA's advocacy efforts, go to www.nrpa.org/advocacy.)

The more immediate effects of the LWCF's expiration have to do with the inability of the government to accumulate new revenues from offshore energy exploration and production to fund the various programs that are supported by the LWCF, according to a blog on the NRPA website.

Thus, the NRPA wants Congress to reauthorize the law with full and permanent funding, and allocate 40 percent guaranteed funding to the State Assistance Program, which funds close-to-home public recreation resources in nearly all counties in America.

Regarding the economic impact study, Kevin A. Roth, vice president of research for the NRPA, said the association worked with the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University in Virginia, and discovered how much local and regional parks actually have made an impact on capital investments.

"That's where we saw the blossoming of the estimates," Roth said.

The numbers quantify and show that parks are economic drivers for local communities in addition to their value in providing environmental and conservation benefits, health and wellness, and quality of life improvements.

Some of the economic study's key findings revealed the following:

  • Local and regional public park agencies directly provided more than 356,000 jobs in the United States during 2013, equating to nearly $32.3 billion in operations spending.
  • Park systems' operations spending generated nearly $80 billion in total economic activity, boosted gross domestic product (GDP) by $38.8 billion and supported nearly 660,000 jobs that paid in excess of $24 billion in salaries, wages and benefits.
  • Local and regional park systems spent an estimated $22.4 billion on capital programs, leading to about $59.7 billion in economic activity, a contribution of $29.2 billion to GDP, $19.6 billion in labor income and more than 340,000 jobs.
  • The nation's local and regional public park systems had nearly $54.7 billion spending in 2013, leading to $139.6 billion in economic activity, just under $68 billion in contributions to GDP, and nearly 1 million jobs that generated labor income of $43.8 billion in 2013.

To boot, more than 40,000 outdoor public recreation projects have been supported by the LWCF State Assistance Program. The investments—which were made with no taxpayer dollars—permanently protect outdoor recreation resources that are used by people of all ethnic groups, all income levels and all ages on a daily basis throughout the year.

For more information about the importance of the LWCF and to take action, go to www.nrpa.org/advocacy-engage/.