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News Release from Comptroller Susan Combs

For Immediate Release
September 25, 2008

Comptroller Susan Combs Says State Parks
Are Natural Economic Assets to Texas

(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Susan Combs says state parks are an important economic asset to Texas and the counties in which they are located. Today, Combs released Texas State Parks: Natural Economic Assets, an analysis of the favorable economic impact of state parks and the positive returns the state receives on its financial investments to operate, maintain and preserve these crown jewels of Texas.

“Our parks are in need of additional funding to meet their most basic needs,” Combs said. “At this critical time, it is important to understand all of the benefits state parks provide to the state, including the economic prosperity they bring to local communities.”

The Comptroller’s study found state parks generate almost $3 million in annual retail sales and $1.5 million in residential income, on average, in counties with state parks. Parks create an average of 66 jobs in rural counties and 53 jobs in metropolitan counties where parks exist. The study also found that visitors to state parks from outside Texas add $15.7 million to the gross state product, $7.9 million in total personal income and 288 new jobs to the Texas economy each year.

According to Texas State Parks: Natural Economic Assets, state parks also have many other benefits: they preserve unspoiled land for the enjoyment of future generations; they offer visitors opportunities for recreation and education; they provide protection for watersheds and wildlife, including endangered species; and they contribute to the public health and quality of life.

Texas has 93 state parks, historical sites and natural areas covering 586,501 acres. State parks hosted an estimated 2.3 million overnight visitors and 6.7 million day visitors in 2007.

Non-local park visitors and park employees spend an average of $2.1 million annually in counties with parks. Rural counties with a state park have taxable retail sales 15 percent higher per capita than rural counties without a state park, which means increased sales tax revenue for local communities.

In conducting research for Texas State Parks: Natural Economic Assets, the Comptroller’s research team visited 18 state parks in all parts of Texas, gathering economic data and anecdotal information from park superintendents and staff, local economic development officials, business owners, parks advocates and others about the parks’ roles in their regions. The team’s findings are included in a series of park profiles within the report.

As Texas becomes increasingly urban, state parks and the experiences they offer are increasingly important to preserve Texas’ natural beauty and outdoor heritage. In an era of record-high gasoline prices, state parks offer an outdoor vacation close to home.

Economic development professionals say parks attract new businesses and new workers to Texas because outdoor recreation makes Texas a more desirable place to live. Quality of life is a particularly important issue for many knowledge- and creativity-sector workers at firms whose site selection decisions are not based on traditional factors such as raw materials, natural resources or shipping infrastructure.

Carter Smith, the executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) hopes the Comptroller’s report will help state leaders better understand the value of state parks.

“We appreciate the work that went into putting this comprehensive report together,” Smith said. “This re-affirms the economic significance of Texas state parks, and we are committed to working to fully realize their potential. These natural assets help conserve the natural resources of Texas and the health benefits associated with outdoor recreation are very important for the people of Texas.”

Amid growing concern about deteriorating infrastructure and services at state parks, the Legislature boosted state park funding in the 2008-09 state budget by $96.4 million, a 79.7 percent increase over the previous biennium, although $36.3 million of this funding was for local park grants. The Legislature required the TPWD to commission a business plan analyzing the necessity and impact of proposed repairs and new construction. The TPWD report found that failing to spend money on park upkeep would lead to “deterioration of state assets, negative impacts on park usage, decreased financial performance of state parks and increased costs to the state of Texas for the eventual need to perform these repairs.”

Combs hopes state and local leaders will find Texas State Parks: Natural Economic Assets helpful as they consider future funding and improvements to state parks.

Texas State Parks: Natural Economic Assets can be found on the Comptroller’s Web site at www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/parks/.

Note to news media: High resolution .jpg photos of state parks and park activities are available for your use on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s News Images Web page at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/newsmedia/news_images/. See the Park of the Month links down the page.

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Find details on all the services of the Comptroller’s office at www.window.state.tx.us, including a transparent look at state spending at www.window.state.tx.us/wherethemoneygoes.

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