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Research project documents economic value of state parks

April 29, 2014 | 0 comments


"Parks are a great investment," University of Wisconsin-Extension Service natural resources economist Dave Marcouiller told business owners and public officials representing the Sherwood area in a review of a statewide study of the economic value of state parks to their gateway communities.

The two-year study for which the report was released in November of 2013 is pertinent to the Sherwood area in northwest Calumet County because the village lies adjacent to the 1,196-acre High Cliff State Park. It has been a state property since it was purchased from the Western Lime and Cement Company in 1956.

With a multitude of attractions, High Cliff draws an estimated 450,000 visitors per year. Acting Park Superintendent Linda Guelig reported that $5,000 in admission fees had been collected during six hours on Sunday, March 30, which was one of few days with a hint of spring during the first four months of 2014.

Among the general findings from the most recent and previous studies is that public parks, forests and trails feed the local and regional economies, add to the value of nearby private properties and serve cultural, historic, legacy and ecosystem purposes on which it is difficult to assign an economic value, Marcouiller said.

Economic findings

According to the definitions, formulas and parameters that were used in the recent study, spending during 2013 by visitors to High Cliff reached nearly $40 million. Of this, $18.504 million was attributed to nonlocal visitors and $20.973 million to local visitors, which included residents of Neenah and Menasha but only a portion of the city of Appleton, Marcouiller noted.

Of those totals, the study indicated that gasoline purchases and automobile services accounted for $8.125 million in spending by High Cliff visitors in 2013. Lodging and camping totaled another $7.56 million; restaurants and bars $4.988 million; groceries and liquor $3.437 million; and equipment rental and repair $2.477 million.

The single largest item was the $9.385 million attributed to equipment purchases by visitors from what was defined as the local area. Other spending categories were for retail and souvenir purchases, entertainment, admissions, licenses and fees.

That economic activity also generated $980,000 in local and state taxes, including $364,000 in sales taxes, the report indicated. It was noted that High Cliff is being operated at an employee expenditure of only $100,000 for permanent staff, plus another $50,000 in seasonal full-time equivalent staffing.

The report credits High Cliff with supporting 290 jobs either directly, indirectly or as an induced effect. A labor income of $4.858 million was calculated for those jobs. When the multiplier effect of that income was tabulated, the total economic output was listed as $15.918 million as a result of the jobs linked to the existence of High Cliff.

Visitor activities

In terms of daily spending per visitor to High Cliff, wildlife watching was easily the highest with about $267. Nearly $100 of that daily average was for equipment, followed by $65 for gasoline and automobile expenses and $37 for overnight accommodations.

A statistical combination of camping, picnicking and swimming produced daily spending of about $40 per person; followed by $30 for birding and sightseeing; $27 for hiking and walking; and $18 for running and jogging.

Some people in the crowd felt the boating accommodated at High Cliff from the 100 slips and four launching ramps at the marina had been shortchanged in the statistical report. Similar comments were made about the popularity of bicycling and horseback riding on the park's 7.75 mile bridle trail.

The park's former superintendent contended that, unless there were significant changes in recent years, boating and picnicking were the top two activities both in popularity and spending at the park.

Statewide data

Marcouiller agreed that some of the parameters set for creating and separating the statistics constitute "a strange makeup." He explained that the distinctions for the High Cliff "micro region" and the Lake Winnebago "macro region" of eight counties were consistent with those for the seven other regions in the statewide economic impact study.

For 2013, visitors spent slightly more than $1 billion as a result of going to Wisconsin state parks, he said. That activity supported some 8,200 jobs and yielded about $350 million in income for the local economy.

Marcouiller report that Devil's Lake State Park near Baraboo accounted for 1.8 million of the 14 million visitors to Wisconsin state parks during 2013. It cost the state about $25 million to operate those parks during the year — about one-third of which was recouped in user fees and licenses.

As at High Cliff, wildlife watching prompted the highest daily individual spending of about $267. Following were all-terrain vehicle riding at $200; snowmobiling at $195; downhill skiing at $112; boating/canoeing and bicycling at $84 each; hunting at $77; fishing at $62; auto scenic viewing at $58; and cross country skiing at $53. Other listed activities were camping, naturalist programs, picnicking, swimming, horseback riding, hiking, walking, jogging and running.

High Cliff opportunities

Guelig told the local business people and public officials there are unused opportunities for boosting the economic impact they could gain from their proximity to the park. One thing she would not accommodate is the advertising of special local activities via posters on bulletin boards at the park office and the Harbor House at the marina.

What Guelig would welcome, however, is the placement and distribution of brochures about businesses. She said a newspaper special section about the park would be a good item to give to tourists.

She also reported that the park's camp sites are all reserved for the remainder of 2014.

Excellent support for the park continues to come from a Friends group, Guelig said. For one fundraiser, the former owner of the limekiln pledged a match of up to $10,000 for the development of two more ponds in which fish could be raised — similar to the existing butterfly pond that contains panfish and largemouth bass.

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