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Economic Impacts of the Wisconsin State Park System: Connections to Gateway Communities

Key Message

Wisconsin state parks and trails are not only important drivers of local economic vitality across the state, but also provide additional economic value due to non-market goods, such as ecosystem function value.


Prey, Jeffrey, Marcouiller, David W., and Kim, Danya. (2013). Economic Impacts of the Wisconsin State Park System: Connections to Gateway Communities. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin.


This research addresses several key questions to improve the understanding of how state parks and trails affect local
economic conditions within the communities and regions in which these properties are located: How state-owned parks, trails, and recreation areas of Wisconsin differ with respect to the outdoor recreation activities of their visitors; To what extent  differing visitor types spend their trip dollars in the local region around these sites; When matched with visitation levels and activity patterns, how visitors to state parks and trails contribute to local job creation and income generation within gateway communities across the state.

The research used activity-based expenditure patterns of visitors to 69 outdoor recreation properties using meta-analysis and a Delphi process. The estimates were then annualized and applied to input-output models developed for eight sub-state regions to generate results which speak to local economic impacts.


Results indicated that the Wisconsin State Park System parks, recreation areas, forests, and trails offer widely varying activities attracting differing types of visitors, including both day-trippers and overnight guests from widely varied areas.

Individual trip spending of visitors ranged on average from almost $41 per day (State Forests) to over $90 per day (State Trails). The entire park system averages roughly 14 million visitor-days per year. Visitors spend in total more than 1 billion dollars (2013 USD) per year. Non-local visitors infuse private sector stimulus that drives local economic impacts; in sum, the annual spending of these non-locals is estimated to exceed 580 million dollars.

The economic impacts of the Wisconsin State Park System vary across the state and depend on property and visitor activity
type, visitation levels, and local economic conditions. These impacts were analyzed by the eight sub-state regions that match the 2005-2010 Wisconsin State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (or SCORP). When combined, the local economic impacts of this private sector stimulus within these regions accounted for over 8,200 jobs and $350 million in income for residents of the state of Wisconsin.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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