Economic Impacts of Recreation
on the Upper Mississippi River System
The value of the Upper Mississippi
River System (UMRS) as a national resource is being ever more widely
recognized. The system is vital in supporting ecological systems, commercial
navigation and a wide variety of recreational activities.
To learn more about the value of recreational use of the UMRS, Congress
authorized a study in 1986 (Public Law 99-88) to measure the economic
importance of recreation in the UMRS.
The study estimated that over 12 million daily visits by recreationists
took place during the study year. These visits supported over $1.2 billion
in national economic impacts (1990 price levels) and over 18,000 jobs
The study area includes 76 counties along the commercially navigable
portions of five rivers: the Mississippi (north of Cairo, Illinois), Illinois,
St. Croix, Minnesota and Kaskaskia.
About the Study
This is the first study of the UMRS to produce basin-wide estimates of
the total number of recreation visitors, the activities they engaged in,
the amount of money they spent on recreation, and the patterns evident
in their spending.
The study was directed by the St. Paul District, Corps of Engineers in
active cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National
Park Service, and the natural resource agencies from the states of Illinois,
Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Representatives from these agencies
comprised a technical review team that was responsible for the overall
direction of the study.
An initial plan of study was developed and a review of existing studies
was conducted. The literature review demonstrated that comprehensive data
on recreational activities and spending did not exist. A sampling plan
was devised to collect data to fill these gaps, with the intent of maximizing
the relevance and quality of the data within the constraints of the study
- Measurement of the amount and type of recreation use in the Upper Mississippi
- Measurement of recreation related spending by study area visitors
- Estimation of the economic impacts associated with that spending
The study focused on use of recreational areas that were most closely
associated with management issues on the UMRS.
Three separate but related surveys (Developed recreation areas and sightseeing
overlooks, Permitted boat docks, and Marina slips) were conducted to collect
this data. Results of these surveys have been combined with a regional
economic model (IMPLAN, developed by the U.S. Forest Service) to determine
the overall impact of recreation on the regional economy.
Types of Recreational Access Not Included:
- Dispersed use areas/undeveloped areas
- Urban river corridor parks (unlimited access)
- Private clubs (hunting, etc.)
- Riparian households without permitted docks
- Commercial boat tours/Gambling boats
- Boaters who pass through the entire UMRS
- River festivals, fishing tourneys, etc.
Data collection for developed sites along the river (and overlooks) was
completed in November 1990, and resulted in 1,316 completed interviews.
The telephone surveys measuring the use of permitted boat docks and marina
slips were both completed in 1991. These telephone surveys used panels
of 150 households who were contacted up to 10 times throughout the survey
Summary of Results
The study focused on use of recreational areas that were most closely
associated with management issues on the UMRS. These included over 600
developed recreation areas and sightseeing overlooks; 18,000 marina slips;
and 2,800 permitted boat docks. Recreational use and spending related
to other types of river access are not represented in these results.
More than 2.3 million recreational party trips to the UMRS were made
to developed areas, sightseeing/visitor center areas, marinas, and permitted
docks during the study period. These trips equate to over 12 million daily
visits by recreationists.
Boating, fishing, and sightseeing were the most popular activities. Half
of all visitors boated.
Over 60 percent of the people made their trips to developed areas, with
the remaining trips being made to marinas (26 percent), sightseeing/visitor
center areas (7 percent) and permitted docks (4 percent).
Residents of counties that border the UMRS accounted for the majority
of the trips, ranging from two-thirds to three-fourths for all types of
access. Day trips predominated (around 75 percent) compared with trips
that included overnight stays. Average party sizes were larger for trips
to permitted docks and marinas.
For developed areas, in which use was distinguished by four regions,
the vast majority of the use (86 percent) took place in the St. Paul and
Rock Island stretches of the UMRS. Only system-wide estimates are available
for the remaining types of access, so regional distribution of use cannot
There were over 12 million daily visits by recreationists during the
75 percent of visits were by residents of counties that border the UMRS.
86 percent of visits to developed areas took place in the St. Paul and
Rock Island stretches of the UMRS.
Recreational Spending (1990 Price Levels)
Visitor spending was measured for items consumed on trips as well as
for durable items (boats, trailers, etc.) that were used on trips. Visitors
spent over $190 million on items consumed on trips during the study year.
Spending on durable items amounted to over $150 million during the study
The average spending per visitor per day for items consumed on trips
Most of this spending was for food, gas, lodging, and boating expense.
Patterns in spending were evident. The most influential factors were
distance traveled, whether trips were daily or overnight, and whether
or not boats were used. These patterns have been identified in "expenditure
profiles" that can be used in future studies in the UMRS.
Spending on durable items used on trips, such as boats and fishing gear,
averaged $12.54 per visitor per day.
Most of this spending was on boating equipment, camping vehicles, and
Visitors to marinas spent more, on average, than visitors to other areas.
The value of all boats in marinas was approximately $600 million.
Economic Impacts (1990 Price Levels)
Economic impact analyses attempt to measure the effect of spending on
local, regional, or national economies. Where spending takes place and
how much spending is made locally by non-resident visitors are of particular
interest. Determining the types of goods purchased and the sectors of
the economy that produce these goods is key to the analysis.
Recreational activity on the UMRS during the study year resulted in
direct and secondary expenditures of $1.2 billion that helped maintain
18,500 jobs nationwide.
Recreational activities in the 76 counties bordering the UMRS during
the study year resulted in direct and secondary expenditures of $400 million
that helped maintain 7,200 jobs.
Service industries, retailers, manufacturers, and finance and insurance
providers were affected most.
One-third of all spending in the 76 corridor counties was made by non-residents,
representing "new dollars" to the region. Over 75 percent of
the overall effects of those "new dollars" occurred in counties
along the UMRS in the St. Paul District.
Since durable goods can be used at many sites for many purposes, only
durable goods that were purchased in the 76 corridor counties were considered
when estimating economic impacts. (Recreational vehicles were not included.)
Comparability of Results
A number of checks on the study results have led to the conclusion that
the study results provide a good representation of recreational activity
during the study year. The results compared favorably to several regional
studies conducted during similar time periods by the Iowa, Minnesota and
Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources. Internal measures were also
considered. The overall use counts, for example, were estimated at less
than 10 percent error at a 90 percent confidence level.
Individuals interested in comparing other study results with those of
this study should be careful to avoid a number of common pitfalls. Variables
that need to be considered when making comparisons of recreation use and
expenditures include: types of access (only developed areas, marinas,
and permitted docks are measured by this study); units of party measurement
(individuals or parties); units of trip measurement (hours, days, visits,
trips); and types of expenditures (consumed goods and services or durable
goods). It is also important to distinguish economic impact analyses (which
focus on actual expenditures) from benefit cost analyses (which compare
"economic value" or "willingness to pay" with costs
to determine "consumer surplus" or "net benefit").
Planners interested in this type of exercise should request study reports
to better understand how the study results were generated and reported.
The study products will enable managers and planners to conduct economic
impact studies at the local level practically and confidently. Such studies
have been impractical in the past because visitor spending patterns, and
their relationship to local economies, were not known and were costly
Reports documenting the study methods and results, and training sessions
in study methods and the use of the regional economic model (IMPLAN),
have been presented to UMRS planners. Training in the study methods and
use of the IMPLAN regional economic model was held in 1992. Over 20 individuals
received the training, representing a variety of state and federal agencies,
and universities. These stakeholders and policymakers will be able to
use the study products directly in decision making regarding economic
development, river use allocation, and resource protection.
Anticipated applications of study results include justification of new
programs or facilities, such as marina expansion or new boat ramps; evaluation
of alternative management options, taking into account the balance of
river uses and environmental integrity; consideration of cost-sharing
approaches; and comparison of economic development options.
The study will also provide a necessary link in assessing overall demand
for the UMRS as a resource, and in assessing its economic and environmental
carrying capacity. The study results will make it more possible to achieve
a comprehensive strategy for managing the UMRS. The study results can
be used in combination with natural resource monitoring data and commercial
navigation data to evaluate the economic output potential and environmental
sustainability of the UMRS as a national resource.
More information about the results of this study can be obtained by contacting
the Study Manager, Bruce Carlson, at: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St.
Paul District, Attn: CENCS-PD-ES, 190 Fifth Street East, St. Paul, MN
55101-1638; telephone : (612) 290-5252.
For reference, cite: Executive Summary, Economic Impacts of Recreation
on the Upper Mississippi River System, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St.
Paul District, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1994.