BLANCO, Texas — Blanco State Park is adding a new staff position and repairing facilities, thanks to increased funding provided by the Texas Legislature. The changes will improve visitor entry and campsite registration, increase personable customer service, expand park headquarters operating hours and improve fiscal management.
For 2008, the site is hiring a new park interpreter. When this position was filled in November, the park staff immediately began planning programs like talks and tours to tell the story of the park’s natural wonders and rich history.
“Enhanced interpretive programs will provide tremendous added value for our visitors,” said Michael Young, park superintendent. “Interpretive Park Rangers and trained Volunteer Interpreters offer a variety of outdoor daytime and evening programs to connect visitors with the park’s cultural and natural resources. This is what makes the difference between visitors showing up and enjoying the outdoors on their own versus personally interacting with knowledgeable professionals to gain a greater awareness, understanding and appreciation of outdoor activities, nature and history.”
Additional funding will also enable the park to replace nineteen broken or inoperable building windows, begin repairs to all of the park’s screen shelters and focus more efforts on resource management such as erosion control and removing invading and exotic plant species.
State investments at Blanco State Park should generate a strong return for the host community. Research reported in 2005 showed the park generates an annual retail sales impact of about $737,738 from employee and visitor spending, creates 20 jobs and produces an impact of $346,711 in additional income for Blanco County residents. The numbers come from Texas A&M University research that shows state parks draw outside visitor dollars into host counties.
“Any time you bring people into town for whatever reason, to spend the night, camp, buy gas and groceries and eat at restaurants, it’s bound to improve the economy,” said Blanco Mayor Jim Rodrigue.
The A&M study reported that Blanco State Park generated $193,873 in revenues 2004 and had $312,135 in operating costs in fiscal year. The state’s “net” investment to operate the park was thus about $118,000. In return, the park generated a retail sales impact of $737,738 in Blanco County from employee and visitor spending on items like groceries, meals out, lodging, shopping and other expenses. If only non-local visitor spending is considered, the park still drew $371,799 in retail sales impact to the host county.
The Blanco findings are one example of the data gleaned from interviews conducted with more than 11,000 visitors to Texas state parks in 2002 and 2004 by Texas A&M University professor John Crompton, Ph.D., and his colleagues from the university’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences. The Texas Coalition for Conservation, a nonprofit umbrella group formed to support parks and natural resource conservation, commissioned the research to determine the economic value of state parks. For cost reasons, only 80 state parks were selected for the A&M study. There are currently 93 state parks in Texas.
Statewide, economic activity associated with the 80 state parks studied generated an estimated total of $793 million in retail sales, had a $456 million impact on residents’ income and created roughly 11,928 jobs. These figures include spending by all visitors, both local and non-local, plus state park budget dollars spent in local communities.
Crompton and his colleagues also analyzed expenditures of park visitors from outside host counties, excluding spending by local residents and “casual” state park visitors attracted to the community for other reasons. For each park studied, the research consistently showed that state parks draw non-local visitors to host counties.
“Tourism is a major component of the Texas economy,” Crompton recently told members of the Texas State Parks Advisory Committee in Austin. “Attractions drive tourism and state parks operate more of these desired attractions than any other entity in the state.”
Researchers say investing money on facilities upkeep, interpretation and services to enhance the visitor experience can boost the economic value of parks.
“State parks,” Crompton contends, “are analogous to retail stores. Economic success depends on what happens inside the facility.