Staunton River State Park

Camping is among many activities offered at Staunton River State Park.

Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced the results of a Virginia Tech report that found Virginia State Parks stimulated more than $286.2 million in visitor spending in 2019.

Visitor spending increased 14.9% over spending in 2018.

“The economic power of nature-based tourism is undeniable, and Virginia State Parks are a shining example,” said Northam. “We must continue to invest in these world class recreational assets that welcome more than 11 million visitors per year and inject hundreds of millions of dollars directly into local economies.”

The annual economic report is a result of a partnership between the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the agency that manages Virginia State Parks. Spending data and other information were collected from thousands of visitors to compile the report.

“Virginia’s state park system shows that protecting our environment is good for economic growth,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Maintaining our park infrastructure and continuing to conserve our special natural places will ensure that Virginia State Parks remain the best in the country.

Several factors contributed to the increased impact, including improved weather conditions in 2019 versus the record-level rainfall in 2018. Fewer rainy weekends in 2019 spurred park visitation and positively impacted spending associated with state parks.

“The findings of this economic impact study highlight the importance of the state park system to the economy of Virginia,” said report author Dr. Vince Magnini of Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. “In particular, many of the parks stimulate economic activity in rural areas. Year-over-year economic impact growth can be attributed to several factors, but the key catalyst is the expansion of the park system. A number of new parks have either opened or are in the process of opening.”

New state parks currently under development include Machicomoco and Middle Peninsula in Gloucester County, Seven Bends in Shenandoah County and Clinch River State Park in Tazwell, Russell, Wise and Scott counties.

According to the report:

• In 2019, visitors to Virginia State Parks spent an estimated $286.2 million in the state. About 45%, $130.2 million, of this spending was by out-of-state visitors.

• The total economic activity stimulated by Virginia State Parks during 2019 was approximately $437 million.

• The total economic impact of Virginia State Parks in 2019 was approximately $343 million. Economic impact is a measure of “fresh money” infused into the state’s economy that likely would have not been generated without the park system.

• At the individual park level, economic impacts range from $795,000 to more than $43 million.

• In 2019, for every $1 of general tax revenue allocated to state parks, $17.68, on average, was generated in fresh money that would not be there if not for Virginia State Parks.

• Economic activity stimulated by Virginia State Parks generated about $25.3 million in state and local tax revenues during 2019. As such, $1.30 in state and local taxes were generated for every dollar of tax money spent on the park system.

“Year after year, we see these economic impact numbers increase, demonstrating that Virginia State Parks are an important part of local communities, providing an extraordinary return on investment for Virginia taxpayers,” said Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Clyde E. Cristman. “Last year, out-of-state visitors spent $130 million as the result of our state park system — an incredible return on only $19.1 million in general fund appropriations.”

The economic activity stimulated by visitation to Virginia State Parks supported approximately 4,180 jobs in the state in 2019.

“For more than 80 years, state parks have been a vital part of Virginia communities,” said Virginia State Parks Western Field Operations Manager David Collett, who served as Interim State Parks Director for much of 2019. “Park rangers live in the communities where their families attend schools and churches and shop, and they share with millions of visitors each year a love of the outdoors.”