More than 7.5 million visits to Virginia state parks represent an economic impact of $175 million showing the value Virginians place on outdoor, affordable recreation.
(Richmond, Virginia) February 16, 2010 - Millions of Americans who rely on state parks for outdoor activities are at risk of losing access to cherished natural and recreational assets, as severe state budget cuts sweep the nation. The National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) established the America's State Parks alliance (www.americasstateparks.org) to mobilize and educate the public and policy makers on the positive impact state parks have on public health and local economies.
Americans demonstrated a strong demand for budget-friendly outdoor recreation and cultural tourism within easy access to home, with more than 725 million visits to state parks in 2009. Whether hiking in the Rocky Mountains, kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay, visiting an historic battlefield or surfing a Southern California beach, state parks ranked among the most important leisure time choices for Americans. Despite this remarkable demand from the public during the recession, these green spaces are in peril.
"Building state parks creates jobs and operating state parks stimulates outdoor recreation and tourism spending. That translates to a huge boon to our local economies," said NASPD President Joe Elton. Elton further stated that, "In 2009 visitors to state parks across America helped create a $20 billion economic impact, which is an incredible return on investment given that the overall budget expenditure nationwide is less than $2.3 billion."
In Virginia, highly visited parks such as First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach with more than 1.7 million visitors and New River Trail State Park in southwest Virginia with nearly 1 million visitors serve a steady stream of hikers, backpackers, cyclists and schoolchildren and are among the most visited state parks. "It's important to understand that each of our 35 state parks contributes in an important way to both the health of our citizens and the economic vitality of our communities," stated Johnny Finch, President of the Virginia Association for Parks. "Virginia is fortunate to have one of the best state park systems in the country, but there are 49 other states whose park systems are just as important to their citizens."
State parks also play a pivotal role in helping combat obesity, one of the nation's most pressing health issues. First Lady Michelle Obama, along with doctors and public health officials, are citing the need for more activity among children.
"Simple outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and camping on public lands and waters can serve as a gateway to a healthier lifestyle," says former White House Fellow Michael Suk, MD who served with the Department of the Interior and is Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Florida. "Most state parks draw the majority of their visitors from surrounding communities and they see repeat visitation. They serve as an important asset that links recreation and public health."
America's State Parks will work collaboratively to share resources, best practices and engage in national partnerships with corporations for stewardship programs, aiding state parks during a time of budget shortfalls and strong demand for state park experiences. Partnerships with corporations can help preserve many of America's most prized natural assets through their affiliation and sponsorship of programs such as reforestation, trail preservation and maintenance and solar-energy installations.
About America's State Parks
America's State Parks will help capture the collective strength and importance of the great park systems developed in the 50 states. With over 6,000 units and more than 725 million visits, America's State Parks works to enhance the American quality of life. NASPD board members representing each region of the country will govern the America's State Parks alliance.
About the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD)
Comprised of fifty state park directors, the NASPD (www.naspd.org) was founded in 1962. The mission of the Association is to promote and advance the state park systems of America for their own significance, as well as for their important contributions to the nation's environment, heritage, health and economy.
About the Virginia Association for Parks (VAFP)
Founded in 1997, the VAFP promotes volunteerism and advocacy for Virginia's State and National Parks. VAFP contributes to more than 5,000 volunteers donating more than 235,500 hours of volunteer time in 2009. The VAFP raises funds to help fund park improvements and also promotes the establishment of Friends Groups for each of Virginia's 35 state parks. Learn more about VAFP by visiting their website at www.virginiaparks.org.