Current Challenges, Funding, and Popularity Trends in State Parks: Responses to a Survey of Park Directors



March 31, 2009


Margaret A. Walls, Juha V. Siikamäki, Sarah Darley, Jeffrey Ferris, and Joseph Maher


Issue Brief

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1 minute

The first state park in the United States was established in the late 19th century. In the 1930s, through the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, many state park systems grew and prospered. In the 1970s, with significant federal funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund state grant program, state park systems further expanded. Today, there are 6,600 state park units in the United States covering 14 million acres of land. These parks provide a wide range of recreation opportunities in locations that are relatively close-to-home. In fact, state parks serve 2.5 times as many visitors as the National Park System with only 16 percent of the acreage.

As part of a broader research study of conservation, recreation, and open space and in support of the bipartisan review commission, the Outdoor Resources Review Group, Resources for the Future conducted a survey of state park directors in the fall of 2008. A structured mailsurvey was sent electronically to park directors in the 50 states (plus Puerto Rico) with assistance from the National Association of State Park Directors. Forty-seven out of 50 state surveys were completed and returned, for a 94 percent response rate. All of the states returned surveys except for Hawaii, Michigan, and Washington; Puerto Rico also did not submit a response.

The survey included a wide range of questions regarding current issues and challenges facing state governments and the parks and recreation areas they provide. For example, the survey asked for budget information and sources of funding. We also inquired about current challenges that the states were facing and about perceived popularity trends of a variety of recreational activities. The survey instrument developed and used for this research is included as an Appendix to this document.

The purpose of this document is to summarize responses to the survey. In the following, we present the key summary statistics of responses for each question. Our summary covers the entire survey and proceeds systematically, question by question, from the beginning of the survey to the end of it. The survey instrument in the appendix provides a helpful context for examining the results. This report includes only summary statistics, and it does not comprise any further analyses or interpretation of the results. However, the survey responses, along with additional information and analysis, will contribute to broader research studies being conducted as part of the Outdoor Resources Review Group efforts.


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