Out-of-towners and locals emptied about $52.6 million from their pockets while visiting state parks in East Multnomah County over one year, according to a new study.
All that dough directly creates the equivalent of 425 full-time jobs at the restaurants, bars, bed-and-breakfasts, grocery stores and gas stations that serve those travelers, economists say.
Officials with the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department — which receives most of its funding from the Oregon Lottery and camping fees — tout that every dollar invested in state parks generates $30.50 in related economic activity.
"What we see with these sorts of numbers is we've got a healthy state parks system, and that's not always the case when you look across the country," explained Terry Bergerson, a state recreation planner.
"I think we have a park system that provides outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, not only for Oregonians, but for people coming from outside the state," he continued.
Researchers counted cars and surveyed recreationists at seven parks in East Multnomah County: Dabney State Recreation Area, Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, Benson State Recreation Area, Rooster Rock State Park, Guy W. Talbot State Park, Bridal Veil Falls State Scenic Viewpoint and the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor.
The Crown Point corridor, which wraps around the iconic Vista House near Corbett, had the strongest allure in East County — with just less than 800,000 visitors plunking down $13.9 million throughout one year.
Benson State Recreation Area, a nook with prime spots for fishing and picnicking off Exit 30 of Interstate 84, was the least popular attraction locally. Approximately 141,000 visitors generated just $2.4 million at the site.
Most of the government counts in East County occurred in 2012 and 2013, but those numbers have been converted into 2016 dollars. The study's methodology was overseen by Eric White, a researcher for the Forest Service who teaches at Oregon State University's College of Forestry. The total cost of the six-year study was $45,697.
Oregon's top performing state park is Silver Falls, with an estimated 1.4 million visitors contributing $58.4 million to the economy near Salem. Overall, state parks contributed $1.1 billion to commerce in the Beaver State, supporting 16,000 full and part-time jobs. About half of that money flows from state parks along the Oregon coast.
"The findings are clear: when state parks succeed, so do Oregon communities," noted Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Director Lisa Sumption. "We want to keep it that way, so we continue to look at what we can do to improve visitors' experiences."
Overnight tourists spend far more than locals venturing out for a daytime jaunt. Those who travel within 30 miles to a state park expend an average of $25 during the journey, compared with an average of $390 for overnight campers.
In East Multnomah County, local visitors spent $18 million during trips to state parks. Out-of-towners who traveled more than 30 miles to reach East Multnomah County parks spent about $34 million.
"The locals would more than likely spend that money in the area anyway," noted Bergerson.
Bergerson said the parks system report replaces a previous study completed in 1998.
The data offers officials hard numbers that demonstrate the economic value of investing in recreation and conservation sites across Oregon.