Study: Parks a huge economic boon to state

Visitors to Colorado State Parks in 2008-09 spent about $396 million statewide with businesses located within 50 miles of a park, according to a recent study released by Colorado State Parks.

The James M. Robb Colorado River State Park, which includes Island Acres, Corn Lake, Connected Lakes and Fruita sections, ranked fourth among the 42 state parks in average annual economic benefit at $22,726,296.

Visitors to the Robb parks complex spent an average of $312.12 per vehicle, the study said.

The market-assessment study, done by Corona Insights and funded through the Colorado Lottery, also found 97 percent of those surveyed gave Colorado State Parks a high approval rating, said Dean Winstanley, state parks director.

He said research found the 42 state parks comprise a major economic partner for communities, especially in rural and remote areas. That point is underlined by the economic impacts from Sweitzer Lake near Delta. Although the small park ranked 32nd in annual economic benefit ($1.44 million), it rated first in average expenditures per vehicle at $429.77.

“We knew that the parks brought business and customers to towns and cities,” Winstanley said. “But Corona’s research provided a valuable dollar analysis.”

Lake Pueblo led the parks in annual economic benefit at $67 million. Second was Arkansas Headwaters at $44.6 million, followed by Steamboat Lake at $38 million.

The study polled Colorado residents through focus groups in five cities, a phone survey of more than 1,900 households, 8,400 park-visitor surveys and a visitor-spending survey.

Winstanley said visitors to Colorado state parks often stop in nearby communities to buy food, gasoline, camping and fishing supplies, meals and other items.

Visitors to an area may extend their stay to see the state park and enjoy the outdoor recreational activities, generating additional business in the communities.

The study also found most park visitors were state residents, although that, too, varies according to location.

In most cases, parks closest to large population centers ranked higher in resident visitors than nonresident visitors, although isolated parks such as Vega and Sweitzer also saw high numbers of resident visitors.

Residents composed more than 95 percent of the visitors to some Front Range parks. Jackson Lake (north of Wiggins), Lake Pueblo and Chatfield (an urban Denver park) have 96 percent resident visitors.

Meanwhile, 77 percent of the James M. Robb complex’s visitors were residents, and 23 percent were nonresidents, something likely due to the Fruita section’s proximity to Interstate 70 and its high tourist traffic.

Mancos State Park, between Durango and Mesa Verde, has 51 percent resident and 47 percent nonresident visitors (2 percent of those polled did not answer), a reflection of that park’s tourist-friendly location.

Winstanley said the study will help the agency in developing future plans.


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