A study and report done through Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business recently shared statistics about the money generated by and spent at Virginia’s state parks in 2018.
It led off with a summary of the collective impact of the 38 state parks on Virginia’s economy, and there were some notable details.
Visitors to Virginia state parks spent an estimated $249.1 million in the commonwealth last year. About 46 percent of that—$113.7 million—came from out-of-state visitors.
The total economic impact of Virginia’s state parks in the year—a measure of “fresh money” infused into the state economy—was just over $267 million.
The study found the economic activity stimulated by visitation to state parks supported approximately 3,858 jobs in Virginia, and was responsible for about $133.2 million in wages and salary income in 2018.
Economic activity stimulated by the state parks generated about $24 million in state and local tax revenue during 2018, meaning that $1.26 in state and local taxes were generated for every dollar of tax money spent on the park system.
The report, written by Vincent P. Magnini, also broke out park-adjacent spending. To calculate that figure, the report looked at money spent on cabins, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels, motels, and campgrounds, as well as money spent at restaurants, bars, grocery and convenience stores. It even accounted for dollars spent on gas, oil, transportation, clothing, sporting goods and souvenirs.
A table breaking down that spending by park gives a reading on how much money local state parks—Lake Anna in Spotsylvania and Louisa counties, Caledon in King George County and Westmoreland in Westmoreland County—added to the spending in the region in 2018.
Widewater State Park in Stafford was also included, although the park didn’t open until late fall last year.
Lake Anna State Park, one of the busiest day-use parks in the state because of its lakeside beach, put up the largest numbers.
The report states that day users to Lake Anna State Park in 2018 spent $6.5 million in 2018, while $1.5 million was spent by overnight users. It also broke down the $8 million in overall spending by noting that residents spent $4.3 million, compared with $3.7 by non-residents.
The next-highest total was at Westmoreland State Park, with visitors there spending $7 million in 2018. Of that, $4 million came from day users, with $3 million spent by overnight users. And $3.9 was spent by residents, compared with $3.1 by non-residents.
Caledon, with but a handful of primitive, hike- or paddle-in campsites and no cabins, was third in the region with spending by day-use visitors of $1.9 million and overnight user spending of $30,000. That total was broken down by spending of $1 million by residents and $926,000 by non-residents.
Widewater State Park, which opened late in the year and so far has no camping or cabins, showed a total spending by visitors of $68,000 for the year, with $36,000 of that coming from resident spending, $32,000 from spending by non-resident visitors.
Another section of the report put numbers to “jobs attributed to Virginia state parks.”
It lists the following job totals for the local parks: Lake Anna State park with 118; Westmoreland with 107; Caledon with 32; and Widewater, under construction for much of the year, with 54.
Tim Kennell, president of the Virginia Association For Parks, which supports national, state and regional parks in the commonwealth, said he thinks the report is a good tool to win support and eventually, funding.
“I don’t think some of our legislators realized how many cabins, yurts, campsites and more there are in our state parks,” Kennell said near the end of this year’s short session of the Virginia legislature, which didn’t produce much in the way of new state parks funding.
He noted that the Virginia Tech report underscored just how much money the parks generate, both for the parks themselves and the localities they are in.
“It’s not just park employees who benefit from the ever-rising visitation to the parks,” he said, “but also little mom-and-pop restaurants, gas stations, groceries and all the other people employed because a park is there.”