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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 nationwide.

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 budget.

Study Objectives

- Measurement of the amount and type of recreation use in the Upper Mississippi River System

- 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 year.

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.

Recreational Use

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 be reported.

There were over 12 million daily visits by recreationists during the study year.

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 year.

The average spending per visitor per day for items consumed on trips was $15.84.

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 fishing gear.

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.

Study Applications

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 to determine.

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?

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.

Problems with this web site: Dave Bergstedt
Last updated on February 4, 1999
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