Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fort Parker News

MEXIA, Texas — Fort Parker State Park is making repairs and improvements thanks to increased funding provided by the Texas Legislature. The changes should mean safer and more comfortable facilities and a more enjoyable visitor experience.

The park recently purchased a new riding lawnmower and two push mowers, the first such new equipment in years. Additional hourly funding will allow the park to have part time employees work longer hours. This will help free the professional staff to focus on more important duties that will benefit visitors. The park also has additional repair funding for projects such as replacing bunk beds in the group barracks.

State investments at Fort Parker should generate a strong return for the host community, since research reported in 2005 showed the park generates an annual retail sales impact of about $1 million from employee and visitor spending, creates 27 jobs and produces an impact of $485,509 in additional income for Limestone County residents. The numbers come from Texas A&M University research that shows state parks draw outside visitor dollars into host counties.

“The state park is very important for the community, from and economic standpoint and from a recreational standpoint,” said Tom Hawkins, Groesbeck Chamber of Commerce president. “The park brings people who spend money in the area. But a lot of local community organizations and families also use the park for reunions and special events. It’s part of the area’s life. I do know that the park gets pretty full and visitors come to local towns like Groesbeck and Mexia-the park is halfway between both towns.”

The A&M study reported that Fort Parker State Park generated $143,325 in revenues and had $362,535 in operating costs in fiscal year 2004. The state’s “net” investment to operate the park was thus about $220,000. In return, the park generated a retail sales impact of more than three times that amount in Limestone County from employee and visitor spending on groceries, meals out, lodging, shopping and other expenses. If only non-local visitor spending is considered, the park still drew $621,415 in retail sales impact to the host county.

The Fort Parker findings are one example of the data gleaned from interviews conducted with more than 11,000 visitors at 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.

Research revealed that 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. Investments in park services and amenities mean more visitors and higher per capital expenditures, which equals higher revenues to the state and more jobs and income for local residents.”

The complete “Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks” research report, including fact sheets on each of the 80 parks studied, can be downloaded from the TPWD Web site.

Details on Fort Parker State Park, including visitor facilities, hours and fees, maps and directions, can also be viewed online.

No comments: