Capturing the Economic Value of Conservation
According to research by the National Recreation and Park Association, in 2019 local public park and recreation agencies in the United States generated nearly $218 billion in economic activity, up from $140 billion in 2013. In 2019 those agencies supported over 1.2 million jobs from their operations and capital spending alone.
Our research has shown that conservation returns between $4 and $11 for every dollar invested. In Vermont, conservation returns $9 to the economy, and in Maine it is as much as $11 (as of 2012).
Parks and green spaces improve water quality, naturally manage stormwater, reduce air pollution, enhance community health, provide recreational opportunities, attract and retain businesses, and support economic development in their region. People who are physically active in parks have reduced healthcare costs. In turn, all of this generates local tax revenue both from increased property values and from tourist spending.
Still, investments in parks and green spaces can be a tall order on a ballot initiative or with budget appropriators unless the fiscal benefits are clear. Our Conservation Economics team leverages the expertise of our Land and People Lab to measure how conserved lands contribute to tourism, property values, ecosystems health, and avoided healthcare costs. Our studies are used to show local governments and voters alike what each dollar can do, unlocking private and public funding necessary to create and maintain parks and open land. That’s why local communities in 27 states have sought our research capabilities and expertise since 2008 to measure the success of their investments and build the case for future funding.
One of those recent cities is Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which sought our help to demonstrate the value of a 20-year park improvement effort.
The Recreation and Park Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, also known as BREC, manages an astounding 175 parks—a total of 6,568 acres of land, over 400 buildings and 56 recreation centers, almost 75 miles of park trails, and over 260 basketball courts. To put the size of the BREC system in perspective, it would take almost 11 days (without sleeping) to play a one hour game at each basketball court. Walking each mile of trail would take 25 hours. And visiting each park for an hour would take over seven days.
When accounting for what people pay in access fees and the time they invest traveling to such spaces, our research found that BREC’s parks provide $280 million in recreational use value every year.
We produced a similar report for New York City, and we found that the park system provides a staggering $9 billion in recreational value each year.
“In the past few months, three communities engaged our team to update economic benefit studies we conducted several years ago,” says Clinton. “They’ve seen the real-world impact of this research in their own communities and returned to us to understand park benefits in a changing landscape defined by demographic, wealth, and real estate shifts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a long-overdue interest in not just how much but who benefits from conservation investments.”