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Natural Economic Assets

Village Creek State Park in Hardin County, Texas


The economic impact of state parks is wide-ranging. The communities that host state parks benefit directly from salaries paid to park employees and from the spending of tourists who visit the area. Restaurants, retail, hospitality and other businesses benefit from the presence of nearby parks. Additional benefits come from the positive effect that parks and open spaces tend to have on the value of nearby land.1 And parks provide the state with revenue from visitor fees, and local governments with increased sales and property tax revenue stemming from parks-related economic activity.

Swimming Pool at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park in Gillespie County, Texas

“Our [Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce] website gets 720,000 hits per year; about 125,000 of those are attributable to tourism activities in Gillespie County. The fourth most-searched term is ‘outdoor’ and the tenth most-searched term is ‘parks.’ From that, we estimate that the parks and other county tourism activities account for 15 percent of our tourism income.”

Mike Weberpal, president Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce
July 30, 2008

“Companies are becoming more interested in quality of life and outdoor recreation for their employees and parks are part of the total package.”

“We get 1.3 to 1.5 million visitors to Fredericksburg per year. The city has 982 hotel rooms and 330 bed and breakfast sites. Retail spending is about $97 million and we receive $24.5 million in lodging receipts.”

Greg Snelgrove, executive director, Gillespie County Economic Development Commission
June 12, 2008

To quantify some of the economic impacts of Texas’ state parks, Comptroller staff evaluated existing studies and conducted additional research.

The resulting analysis consists of three parts. First, we consider the economic impact of state parks at the local (county) level, including visitor expenditures and staff salaries. Second, we consider the statewide economic impact of state parks. Because much of the county-level economic impact of state parks consists of expenditures made by other Texans and the expenditure of state revenue through park budgets, this activity cannot be considered a net economic gain for the entire state. To estimate the net economic gain, we estimate the direct economic impact of out-of-state visitors to Texas state parks and the indirect economic impact resulting from environmental remediation at metropolitan state parks. Finally, we explore the other benefits of state parks, including those related to economic development, environmental conservation, public recreation, and cultural and historic preservation.

Local Economic Impacts

Economists have studied the impact of public parks on urban and rural prosperity for decades. In one of the most significant early articles on the subject, geographers Robert Harper, Theodore Schmudde and Frank Thomas analyzed demographic shifts taking place in the U.S. in the decades following World War II. They noted that the increasing urbanization of postwar America presented two related problems: “how to cope with the needs of people jammed into ever-growing metropolitan centers and how to redress the declining economic opportunity in major segments of rural America.”2

As a solution to these challenges, the authors proposed that recreation-based economic development could serve as a means for addressing these issues:

Urbanization with its attendant growth in leisure time and disposable income is increasing the demand for outdoor recreation beyond the ability of urban areas to provide for the needs. Thus, the urban dweller returns to the rural area as tourist, fisherman, hunter and traveler for the day, overnight, and for the longer vacation… Recreational demand by urbanites offers a major, if not the major, economic opportunity for revitalization of certain rural areas of the country.3

Two recent studies conducted by John Crompton and other researchers from Texas A&M University examined the economic contributions of Texas state parks to the state and counties in which they are located.

“My business would not exist without Balmorhea State Park, which is the main economic catalyst for the local economy. Many other area businesses would be unable to survive without the park.”

Neta Rhyne, owner of the Toyahvale Desert Oasis Dive Shop, Toyahvale
July 24, 2008

The Texas Coalition for Conservation, a nonprofit advocacy organization, commissioned these studies in 2005 and 2006. The latest report, released in December 2006, estimated the local economic impact of 79 state parks.4 This updated a January 2005 report by the same researchers that estimated the economic impact of 80 parks. (Sea Rim State Park in Jefferson County could not be studied in 2006 because it closed due to damage from Hurricane Rita in September 2005.) The results then were extrapolated to all 123 state park units. (A park unit is a contiguous area of a park or natural area. Some parks, such as Choke Canyon State Park, have multiple units separated by non-park tracts or large bodies of water.)

Crompton, an expert in tourism science, conducted these studies with the aid of Texas A&M researchers and graduate students. The team surveyed 12,878 visitors to 74 state parks in the summer and fall of 2002, 2004 and 2006. Staff from the Comptroller’s office reviewed these studies and performed additional analysis, finding that state parks have significant economic benefits for the counties in which they are located.

Night at Lost Maples State Park in Bandera and Real Counties, Texas

Visitors were asked to estimate their parties’ expenditures for groceries, food and beverages, recreational equipment, retail shopping, lodging, gasoline and other expenses. Only visitors from outside the county and those for whom the park was their primary destination were surveyed (which excluded, for example, relatives visiting an area who stayed at a park in lieu of a local hotel).

In addition to direct economic impacts, the study calculated the magnitude of local economic activity, or the total value that recreational purchases added to the area economy.

The Texas A&M studies defined county economic impacts as the effect of direct annual expenditures by park budgets and non-local (defined as out-of-county) park visitors. These effects were measured in terms of park operating costs, including salaries and wages paid to park employees (counted as full-time equivalent employees, or FTEs), as well as other impacts attributable to non-local park visitors, including total county sales transactions, total county personal income and the total number of jobs created in the county.

To estimate the average economic impact on host counties, Comptroller staff examined data from the 2006 Texas A&M study, separating the average impacts based on the source of expenditure. This analysis included direct expenditures generated by non-local visitors and park budget expenditures from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). All financial data were adjusted to reflect 2008 dollars.

“Our community could not survive without the state park. The state park and the tourism it brings helps keep area folks employed. This economic benefit allows local residents to remain in the area by earning income from the park.”

Lisa Nugent, executive director, Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce
July 23, 2008


Average County Economic Impact of Park-Related Expenditures

Average County Economic Impact of Park-Related Expenditures


Average County Employment Impact of Park-Related Expenditures

Average County Employment Impact of Park-Related Expenditures

(Economic and Employment Impact of Park-Related Expenditures in Table Format.)

Texas A&M University and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Based on this data, non-local county visitors and park employees spent an average of more than $2.1 million annually in counties with parks.5 This amount, in turn, generated close to $3 million in retail sales in each county with a park and $1.5 million in total resident income each year. These expenditures also generated an average of about 59 jobs in each county with a state park.

“The parks are tremendous assets that benefit the community. Bastrop would be less of a destination without the state parks.”

Susan Weems Wendel, Bastrop Chamber of Commerce
June 11, 2008

These data indicate that counties that host state parks realize important economic benefits. Exhibit 4 shows the average economic impact of a state park on its host county. Exhibit 5 shows the change in host county employment due to park-related expenditures.

Golfing in Bastrop State Park in Bastrop County, Texas

It is also useful to examine the difference in impacts on metropolitan and rural counties.6 Using data from the Texas A&M study and converting the expenditures to 2008 dollars, average annual direct expenditures in rural park-hosting counties are approximately $2.1 million. Average annual direct expenditures in metropolitan park-hosting counties are roughly $1.9 million. These expenditures, in turn, resulted in the estimated economic impacts presented in Exhibits 6 and 7.

"Hueco Tanks and the Franklin Mountains attract people from all over the world."

John Cook, Mayor, El Paso
July 24, 2008

“[The park] contributes to the quality of life of the surrounding area.”

Richard Dayoub, president and chief executive officer, El Paso Chamber of Commerce
July 24, 2008

These data indicate that, in absolute terms, the economic impact of state parks on rural park and metropolitan host counties is roughly equivalent. The higher direct expenditures in rural counties generate slightly higher sales and slightly lower total income than in metropolitan counties.

The most prominent difference between the two types of counties is in the area of employment. Direct expenditures by non-local visitors and park employees in rural park-hosting counties generate roughly 66 jobs in the average rural county, 13 more than in the average metropolitan county. One possible reason for this higher employment level is the fact that the same dollars can support more jobs in rural areas, where the cost of living is lower.7


Estimated Economic Impact of Park-Related Expenditures by County Type

Exhibit 6

(Economic Impact of Park-Related Expenditures by County Type in Table Format.)

Texas A&M University and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Ultimately, the most significant finding is that, while the total sales and income generated by state parks in rural and metropolitan counties are roughly the same in real terms, the smaller size of rural economies means that state parks provide a larger proportion of total county economic activity.


Estimated Employment Impact of Park-Related Expenditures by County Type

The employment impact on the average rural county is 66.2 full-time equivalent jobs.  The impact on the average metropolitan county is 53.3 full-time equivalent jobs.

Texas A&M University and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

For example, the 53.3 jobs created by a state park in the average metropolitan park-hosting county represents only 0.04 percent of employment in the average metropolitan county, or four out of every 10,000 jobs.8 By contrast, for every 10,000 jobs in the average park-hosting rural county, about 90 jobs can be credited to park-related expenditures.

Thus it is clear that park-related expenditures have a far greater impact on rural host counties.


Effect of State Parks on Taxable Sales in Rural Counties, Fiscal 2006 (2008 dollars)

Mean per capita
taxable retail sales
Rural Counties With At Least One State Park $6,544
Rural Counties With No State Park $5,698
Difference $846
Difference (percent) 14.8%

Note: Difference is statistically significant at the 10 percent confidence level.

Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

State Parks and County Sales Tax Revenue

Additional analysis by the Comptroller’s office finds that state parks contribute to enhanced economic activity in rural counties. The Comptroller team analyzed county-level data on fiscal 2006 taxable retail sales in non-metropolitan counties then converted it to 2008 dollars. Per capita taxable retail sales in rural counties with state parks were 14.8 percent higher than those in rural counties without state parks (Exhibit 8). Because urban counties have much larger economies with greater retail sales activity, no statistically significant relationship between parks and urban retail sales tax revenue was found.

Park Ranger Teaching Archery

These data indicate that state parks contribute to retail economic activity in rural host counties. One explanation for this finding could be that visitors to state parks make purchases in the host county. Such purchases would generate jobs, income and tax revenue in the counties and cities near state parks.

State Economic Impacts

Much of the economic activity noted above is associated with Texans visiting Texas state parks. This activity, however, may not represent a net increase in state economic output, since it represents a shift in economic activity from one part of the state to another.

“The park is a jewel in the rough because so much more could be done to invest in additional amenities to the park.”

Ann Vaughn, executive director, Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce
July 23, 2008

But state parks also generate net economic activity in Texas. To assess this aggregate impact, Comptroller staff analyzed two factors: the direct economic impact associated with expenditures from out-of-state park visitors and the indirect impacts related to the environmental benefits that parks provide.

Economic Impact of Out-of-State Visitors

Spending by out-of-state visitors to Texas state parks results in a contribution of $15.7 million to the gross state product. This estimate is obtained by using the data on the number of overnight visitors from outside Texas cited in the overview of this report, as well as the average expenditures by non-local visitors to state parks estimated in the Texas A&M study. This is a conservative estimate because the out-of-state visitor count from TPWD includes only visitors who stayed overnight in state parks and the number of day visitors must be estimated.

Based on TPWD’s information, 3.1 percent of all overnight visitors to Texas state parks in fiscal 2007–about 72,500–were from out-of-state and stayed an average of 2.4 nights. Assuming conservatively that 3.1 percent of all 6.7 million day visitors that year–or 209,646–were also from out-of-state, the total number of out-of-state visitors would be 282,144.

This estimate of Texas out-of-state visitors is especially conservative when compared to estimates from other states. A study from the University of Missouri indicated that out-of-state visitors to that state’s parks accounted for about 21 percent of the total number of visitors. The same study cited other work that determined that about 32 percent of the visitors to West Virginia state parks were from out-of-state.9


Expenditures of Out-of-State Visitors to Texas State Parks

Exhibit 9

(Expenditures of Out-of-State Visitors to Texas State Parks in Table Format.)

Texas A&M University and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

A gain to the state economy of more than $5 million is the result of the direct expenditures by out-of-state overnight visitors when the number of these visitors is multiplied by an estimated per-day, per-visitor expenditure of $29.30 derived from the estimates in the Texas A&M study.10 Another $10.4 million gain to the state economy is the result of estimating the number of out-of-state day use visitors multiplied by an estimated per-day, per-visitor expenditure of $49.77, also derived from the Texas A&M study.11 Exhibit 9 illustrates what goods and services out-of-state visitors purchase.

To determine the total impact of out-of-state visitors on the Texas economy, the estimated direct impacts were incorporated into an economic forecasting and policy analysis program.12 The results are illustrated in Exhibit 10.

Out-of-state visitor expenditures generate more than $15.7 million in the Texas economy annually. This activity is estimated to create $7.9 million in personal income and about 288 new jobs each year.


Estimated State Impact Out-of-State Visitors to State Parks

Type of Impact Value
Gross State Product (2008 Dollars) $15,716,000
Total Personal Income (2008 Dollars) $7,934,000
Total Employment 288.1 Jobs

Sources: Texas A&M University and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Environmental Impact of Urban State Parks

Parks provide social amenities because of their aesthetic appeal. They also provide remedies to environmental problems such as storm water runoff and pollution. Trees and shrubs intercept rain as it falls to the ground, allowing water to evaporate or be absorbed. Also, the pervious groundcover of soil and vegetation mitigates runoff through rainwater absorption. Trees, shrubs and other vegetation also provide air quality benefits by removing from the atmosphere pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.13

These problems of storm water runoff and pollution lead to production losses from flooding damage and health care costs associated with treatment of pollution-related diseases and can diminish economic activity.14 The economic consequences of these problems are more pronounced in metropolitan areas, where pollution can be more severe and runoff is accelerated by impervious surfaces such as buildings and roads.

Park Ranger Helping Visitors

The prevention and remediation of storm water runoff and pollution entails costs to state and local governments and taxpayers. By minimizing these problems, parkland provides a real economic benefit; by minimizing abatement costs parks make tax dollars available for other purposes.

To estimate this economic impact, Comptroller staff estimated the cost of storm water and pollution control that would be necessary in the absence of state parks. This analysis included state parkland located in metropolitan areas, since that is where storm water runoff and pollution represent a significant public cost. The costs associated with storm water and pollution control in Texas metropolitan areas were incorporated into an economic modeling program to determine the economic activity generated by savings on these expenditures.

Direct expenditures associated with storm water management and air pollution removal were obtained from an analysis of San Antonio’s urban ecosystem by the organization American Forests.15 While American Forests has conducted several urban ecosystem analyses for several cities in Texas, the costs associated with air pollution removal and constructing a storm water management system for San Antonio was chosen as a proxy for all metropolitan state parks in Texas.16

Ecologically, San Antonio represents a middle-point between the humid and rainy Houston region and the more arid regions of West Texas. San Antonio also represents a middle point between the major metropolitan regions with significant air quality issues and less populated metropolitan regions with fewer of such problems.17


Estimated Economic Impact of Urban State Parks: Environmental Benefits on the State Economy

Type of Impact Value
Gross State Product (2008 Dollars) $233,625,000
Total Personal Income (2008 Dollars) $153,700,000
Total Employment 3,906 Jobs

Sources: American Forests, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

To estimate the value of environmental savings at the state level, the sum of the costs associated with air pollution removal and the construction of a storm water system was divided by the total tree cover acreage in the San Antonio region. This would generate a per acre value of approximately $1,963. This is then multiplied by the number of acres in Texas state parks in metropolitan counties.18 On the basis of this acreage (81,181 acres), the estimated monetary value to the state of remediation associated with metropolitan state parks in Texas is more than $159 million annually.

Incorporating these savings into an economic model for Texas translates into more than $233 million of goods and services produced by businesses in the state. This level of economic activity generates almost $154 million in total personal income and slightly more than 3,900 jobs statewide (Exhibit 11).

Studying the total economic impact of park-related spending may yield valuable analyses for state legislators and economists, but it may not fully describe what this spending means to park visitors or those that depend on them for their livelihood.

So imagine that a family of four–two adults and two children under the age of 13–from the Tulsa, Oklahoma area visited Lake Brownwood State Park in Brown County one week during the 2008 summer season. According to 2006 data from the Texas A&M study converted to 2008 dollars, this family would spend approximately $872 in Brown County:

Boating in Lake Brownwood
  • $42 on park fees;
  • $557 on the cabin rental and hotel occupancy tax;
  • $154 on groceries and beverages;
  • $23 on recreational equipment;
  • $11 on retail items, and
  • $85 on auto and incidental expenses.

If other out-of-county visitors to Lake Brownwood spend the same amount in 2008, Brown County grocers would see $199,000 in sales attributable to the park visitors; restaurateurs $188,000; sporting goods vendors $58,000; retailers about $29,000; the park and local hotel and motel owners about $196,000; auto-related businesses about $188,000 and other businesses about $25,000.

Extrapolating these impacts to the county, total sales attributable to park visitors and its subsequent effects on all other businesses would be almost $2 million, generating nearly $10,000 in local sales tax. Brown County residents would realize a total $1.1 million in personal income. The total number of jobs attributable to park visitor spending would be 20.8 full-time equivalents (FTEs). Added to the 20.3 FTEs employed by the park itself, 41.1 FTEs would have been employed.19

Other Environmental Benefits

“Nature tourism offers the LRGV [Lower Rio Grande Valley] an opportunity to both restore natural habitats and create critically needed jobs.”

Ted Eubanks, chief executive officer, Fermata, Inc., Houston

“All the trails, bike paths, everything is connected to and related to the park; the park is the gel that ties the whole community together.”

Mike Rhodes, Rhodes Enterprises, Inc., Edinburg
July 24, 2008

“I don’t know what it says,” she said, viewing a Japanese nature tourism periodical, “but I know it’s talking about this area.”

Martha Noell, president and chief executive officer, Weslaco Chamber of Commerce
July 15, 2008

State parks provide many environmental benefits. They preserve the state’s biodiversity and provide a vital home for varied plant and animal life. Many parks collaborate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by providing habitat for threatened and endangered species designated under the federal Endangered Species Act. Among these species to be found in Texas state parks are the ocelot (a medium-sized spotted cat), the jaguarundi (a small, slender-bodied cat), the golden-cheeked warbler, the peregrine falcon, the Houston toad and several species of desert spring fish. The chain of state parks in South Texas called the World Birding Center provides seasonal homes to about 500 species of migrating birds.

As urban and exurban areas expand in Texas, parks become increasingly important because they prevent the development of open space. Preserving the aesthetic beauty of Texas’ rural and undeveloped areas is vital to ensure that Texas remains a place where families desire to live and work.

As noted above, parks also provide important health benefits by improving the environment. Trees, shrubs and other plants remove carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide from the atmosphere. Parks, particularly those located in or near urban areas, can improve air quality by preserving and cultivating plant life. In addition, their open spaces provide important water quality benefits such as storm water mitigation, water quality improvement, in-stream environmental flow enhancement and groundwater recharge. Many state parks, such as Caddo Lake State Park in deep east Texas and Garner State Park in southwestern Texas, are vital to the preservation of naturally flowing rivers, creeks and streams, allowing nature to cleanse waters for downstream use. These properties enhance the quality and quantity of Texas’ precious water resources. Some of these factors can be quantified, based on existing research.

Finally, parks facilitate a respect for nature among those who come to visit them. To develop the next generation of environmental stewards, Texas parks employees work hard to teach visitors about low-impact camping, respect for wildlife, protection of plant life, litter prevention and other outdoor ethical questions. Through their exposure to these unique natural places, Texans from all walks of life will recognize that these assets must be treasured and protected.

Bird-watching at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Hidalgo, Texas

Other Positive Effects of State Parks

Parks provide still other significant benefits, some not easily quantified, related to economic development, public recreation, cultural preservation, public health and environmental conservation.

“Palo Duro Canyon State Park one of the Panhandle’s primary tourist attractions. We feature the park very prominently in virtually all of the literature that the Convention and Visitors Council sends out.”

Jerry Holt, vice president, Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council
June 19, 2008

Economic Development Benefits

In addition to the quantitative data discussed above, qualitative evidence suggests state parks have a positive economic impact on surrounding communities. The Comptroller’s team conducted interviews with representatives from economic development, real estate and tourism interests in several Texas communities located near state parks, and found uniform support for the parks. Economic development officials suggested that their regions benefit substantially from the economic spillover associated with state parks in their region.

A strong system of public parks is vital to an amenities-based economic development strategy. Urban dwellers represent an increasing demand for public parks and recreation, and a strong public parks system helps to make Texas a desirable place to live. Many knowledge- and creativity-sector workers demand access to recreational amenities, and public parks help the state recruit and retain these highly sought workers. Academics, community leaders and business officials all suggest that a first-rate system of public parks can help with business recruitment and expansion.

According to economist Richard Florida:

Quality-of-place – particularly natural, recreational, and lifestyle amenities – is absolutely vital in attracting knowledge workers and in supporting leading-edge high technology firms and industries. Knowledge workers essentially balance economic opportunity and lifestyle in selecting a place to live and work. Thus, quality-of-place factors are as important as traditional economic factors such as jobs and career opportunity in attracting knowledge workers in high technology fields. Given that they have a wealth of job opportunities, knowledge workers have the ability to choose cities and regions that are attractive places to live as well as work.20

Recent academic research has shown that quality-of-life considerations play an important role in many companies’ location decisions. In particular, “footloose” companies are especially sensitive to the amenities offered by potential sites. These knowledge and service-sector firms are not tied to traditional considerations such as raw materials, natural resources or shipping infrastructure. Instead they are concerned first and foremost with attracting and retaining a highly educated work force. In fact, substantial evidence suggests that companies located in regions with a substandard quality of life must pay salary premiums to recruit and retain the workers that they need.21

A 1997 article by John Crompton, Lisa Love, and Thomas More for the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration confirmed that quality-of-life considerations are important in business location decisions and that public parks are among the most important of these factors.

In this study, researchers surveyed officials from 174 businesses that had relocated, expanded or been launched in Colorado in the preceding five years. These officials reported that quality of life was the most important consideration in their decisions, and that parks, recreation and open space were the second most significant element in evaluating a location’s quality of life. Parks trailed only cost of living in importance for evaluating quality of life, and were more important than such considerations as primary/secondary education, personal safety, cultural opportunities and health care services.22 Among small businesses, parks were the most important quality-of-life attribute.23

In addition to its funding of TPWD’s state parks system, the state also provides about $50 million in local park grants in the fiscal 2008-09 biennium.24 TPWD awards these funds directly to local jurisdictions. Evidence suggests that these investments also pay healthy dividends.

A December 2006 study by the Perryman Group, commissioned by the Texas Parks and Recreation Foundation, found that local parks across the state have led to the creation of more than 45,000 jobs through maintenance and operations, capital investment and tourism. The report also found that local parks activity generates $171.6 million in revenue for state government each year.

According to the report, “local parks and recreation programs not only improve the quality of life of current residents, they also enhance economic development prospects,” particularly for “knowledge-based industries.” In addition, the report found that local parks increase the real estate values of residential and commercial property abutting a park area by approximately 20 percent.25

These findings indicate that Texas stands to lose out on economic development opportunities if its system of state and city parks does not keep pace with business and worker expectations. This lesson hit home dramatically for Dallas in 2001, when the city lost out to Chicago in its bid to recruit the new corporate headquarters of Boeing Company.

In announcing its choice of Chicago, Boeing stated that the city’s superior quality of life was influential in its decision. The relative lack of public parkland in and around Dallas was a factor cited by Boeing in its decision.26 The loss of the Boeing relocation spurred city leaders and private interests in Dallas to reevaluate and expand the city’s parkland.27 The experience also put momentum behind the Trinity River Project, a proposal to reclaim the Trinity River and create one of the country’s largest urban parks near downtown Dallas.28

Local officials, business leaders, health advocates, education professionals and environmental activists in Houston have joined together to form a group called Houston Wilderness. This nonprofit organization is working to create a greenbelt of open space that one day will completely surround the greater Houston area. These leaders recognize the untapped potential of southeast Texas as a hub for recreation and ecotourism, and know that there is a need to protect open space in the greater Houston area as development expands. According to Rosie Zamora, the organization’s president who also sits on the board of the Greater Houston Partnership, her industry partners recognize that “green is in” and that the region must get serious about investing in parkland if Houston is going to remain a desirable place for workers to live.29

Public Recreation, Health and Cultural Benefits

Public parks expand recreational and cultural opportunities by providing Texans with accessible vacation options. State parks allow all Texans to enjoy recreational opportunities on the state’s coastline, in its mountains, along its rivers and near its scenic lakes. Furthermore, parks offer an affordable vacation alternative close to home for many Texas families, a significant consideration during a period of record-high gasoline prices.

A public parks system is important so that all Texans can enjoy activities such as camping, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking and swimming. These and other recreational pursuits provide important public health benefits for Texans. The emerging field of “ecopsychology” links exposure to nature to mental and physical health. Several studies have shown that time spent outdoors can ease stress, anxiety and depression.30

Sauer-Beckmann Farm in the LBJ State Historic Site in Gillespie County, Texas

The link between physical activity and improved health is well documented, just as a lack of physical activity contributes to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems. Research has shown that access and proximity to parks may increase the likelihood that people will exercise, leading to in an “increase in aerobic capacity, along with weight loss, a reduction in body fat, improvements in flexibility, and an increase in perceived energy.”31 Easy access to public parks can encourage families to take greater advantage of these healthy recreational activities, resulting in actual health care cost savings. A study conducted for the city of Philadelphia estimated that public parks in that city provided residents with approximately $69 million in health savings in 2007 alone.32

Parks also preserve Texas’ most treasured historical and cultural resources, which provide valuable educational opportunities for each new generation. Among these assets is San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, at the site of the battle that won Texas its independence. The Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site in Stonewall recreates Texas farm life of more than a century ago, complete with actual period homes, a working blacksmith shop, vegetable gardens and livestock pens.

Other parks are in themselves historic, such as Fort Richardson in Jacksboro. And Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose preserves dinosaur footprints made about 113 million years ago in an ancient riverbed. Preservation of cultural and natural resources such as these will instill an important sense of state and national pride for future generations of Texans.


  • 1 John L. Crompton, “The Impact of Parks and Open Spaces on Property Taxes,” in The Economic Benefits of Land Conservation, ed. Constance T. F. deBrun (San Francisco, California: The Trust for Public Land, March 2007), p.1, (Last visited August 20, 2008.)
  • 2 Robert A. Harper, Theodore H. Schmudde and Frank H. Thomas, “Recreation Based Economic Development and the Growth-Point Concept,” Land Economics (February 1966), p. 95.
  • 3 Robert A. Harper, Theodore H. Schmudde and Frank H. Thomas, “Recreation Based Economic Development and the Growth-Point Concept,” p. 95.
  • 4 Texas Coalition for Conservation, The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks in FY 2006, by John L. Crompton and Juddson Culpepper, Texas A&M University, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences (Austin, Texas, December 2006), (Last visited August 20, 2008.)
  • 5 On average, non-local visitors spent $1.6 million in a county with a state park. Average park budget expenditures were estimated close to $512,000 at the county level.
  • 6 Texas counties were classified as rural based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural-Urban Continuum Code, (Last visited August 20, 2008.)
  • 7 Dividing the total direct expenditures by the number of jobs in this exhibit, rural county salaries averaged about $32,000 annually while similar metropolitan county salaries averaged slightly under $36,000.
  • 8 Based on information from the Texas Workforce Commission (, March 2007 employment for the average rural county in Texas was 7,487. The average number of employed people in a metropolitan county was 125,153.
  • 9 Cole, Shu Tian, C. Randal Vessell, and Tao Zhu (2003). 2002 State Economic Impacts of Missouri State park Visitors. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri-Columbia.
  • 10 Based on the Texas A&M study, the 2008 inflation adjusted average per-person, per-day expenditure by non-local visitors to state parks is $44.93. Based on the IMPLAN model for Texas, it was estimated that about 65 percent of the value of retail expenditures and 67 percent of accommodation expenditures are local in nature. The remaining shares of these expenditure values are allocated to out-of-area industries that supply retail goods to the local retailers. Hence, in this analysis only $29.30 of the daily retail and accommodation expenditures of $44.93 was used to estimate the economic impact of out-of-state overnight visitor expenditures. It should be noted that overnight visitors spent approximately 2.43 days in the park. This puts the per-person direct expenditure at roughly $71.20.
  • 11 In the case of out-of-state day use visitors, only $49.77 of the $76.26 retail and accommodation expenditures was used to estimate the economic impact of out-of-state day use visitors.
  • 12 These estimates are derived using REMI’s Policy Insight model, a computable general equilibrium economic model that estimates the impact of changes in policy variables, such as increased retail expenditures, on components of the Texas economy. These components include industry production, demand for inputs (labor and capital), migration and supply of labor, prices and wages and trade.
  • 13 American Forests, Urban Ecosystem Analysis for the Houston Gulf Coast Region: Calculating the Value of Nature (Washington, D.C.: December 2000), p. 5. (Last visited August 21,2008.)
  • 14 This report does not consider the economic impacts of losses from natural hazards or disease. Its analysis is confined to economic impact associated with the cost of constructing facilities that would remediate the negative effects of such hazards.
  • 15 American Forests, Urban Ecosystem Analysis Phase 2: Data for Decision Making, San Antonio, TX (Washington, D.C.: September 2003), p. 3, 5-9, (Last visited August 21, 2008.)
  • 16 American Forests, Urban Ecosystem Analysis Phase 2: Data for Decision Making, San Antonio, TX; American Forests. Urban Ecosystem Analysis, Town of Flower Mount, TX (Washington, D.C.: August 23, 2006), (last visited August 21,2008); American Forests, Local Ecosystem Analysis, Garland Texas: Calculating the Value of Nature (Washington, D.C.: April 2000), (last visited August 21, 2008); and American Forests, Urban Ecosystem Analysis for the Houston Gulf Coast Region: Calculating the Value of Nature (Washington, D.C.: December 2000), (Last visited August 21, 2008.)
  • 17 American Forests, Urban Ecosystem Analysis Phase 2: Data for Decision Making, San Antonio, TX; and American Forests, Urban Ecosystem Analysis for the Houston Gulf Coast Region: Calculating the Value of Nature.
  • 18 Based on park acreage information obtained from TPWD and identifying metropolitan counties according to the USDA Rural-Urban Continuum Code, the estimated number of acres in state parks located in metropolitan counties is 81,181.
  • 19 Texas Coalition for Conservation, The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks in FY 2006. All data except FTE were adjusted to reflect 2008 dollars.
  • 20 Richard Florida, “Competing in the Age of Talent,” Greater Philadelphia Regional Review (Summer 2001), p. 14, (Last visited August 20, 2008.)
  • 21 John L. Crompton, “Competitiveness: Parks and Open Space as Factors Shaping a Location’s Success in Attracting Companies, Labor Supplies, and Retirees,” in The Economic Benefits of Land Conservation, pp. 48-54.
  • 22 John L. Crompton, Lisa L. Love, and Thomas A. More, “An Empirical Study of the Role of Recreation, Parks and Open Space in Companies (Re)Location Decisions,” Journal of Parks and Recreation Administration (Spring 1997), p. 48.
  • 23 John L. Crompton, “Competitiveness: Parks and Open Space as Factors Shaping a Location’s Success in Attracting Companies, Labor Supplies, and Retirees,” pp. 48-54.
  • 24 Texas H.B. 1, p. VI-32, 80th Leg. Reg. Sess. (2007).
  • 25 The Perryman Group, “Sunshine, Soccer and Success: An Assessment of the Impact of Municipal Parks and Recreation Facilities and Programs on Business Activity in Texas” (Waco, Texas, December 2006), pp. 6-9, (Last visited August 22, 2008.)
  • 26 Paul M. Sherer, Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space (San Francisco, California: The Trust for Public Land, 2003), pp. 17-18, (Last visited August 20, 2008.)
  • 27 Victoria Loe Hicks, “Greening the City’s Center: Downtown Plan Includes 44-acre Gateway, Three Other Parks,” Dallas Morning News (July 11, 2003), p. 1B.
  • 28 Trinity River Corridor Project, “Frequently Asked Questions,” (Last visited August 21, 2008.)
  • 29 Interview with Rosie Zamora, president, Houston Wilderness, Houston, Texas, July 8, 2008.
  • 30 Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005), pp. 47-53.
  • 31 Erica Gies, The Health Benefits of Parks: How Parks Help Keep Americans and Their Communities Fit and Healthy (San Francisco, California: The Trust for Public Land, 2006), pp. 8-9, (Last visited August 21, 2008.)
  • 32 Philadelphia Parks Alliance, How Much Value Does the City of Philadelphia Receive from its Park and Recreation System? (Washington, D.C.: The Trust for Public Land, June 2008), p. 11, (Last visited August 22, 2008.)
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