Outdoor recreation in Georgia is big business, generating $23.3 billion in consumer spending, 231,000 jobs, $7 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue annually. As Georgia’s urban population continues to grow, the need for park land, open space, and recreational amenities is also increasing. The Macon and Warner Robins metro areas have a population of almost 400,000, while most of metro-Atlanta’s 5.3 million people are within a two hour drive of the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park.
Generating Economic Growth in Middle Georgia
The Ocmulgee Water Trail Partnership, made up of representatives from 11 counties along the river, is meeting regularly to plan ways to attract and support more river-focused recreation and tourism. Incorporating a fully functional Water Trail in the National Park & Preserve, with improved landings, campsites, parking and restrooms, would provide yet another draw for both local citizens and people from outside the region. In the longer term, extending the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail into a long distance multi-use pathway could provide the area with an amenity comparable to the immensely popular Silver Comet Trail that connects metro-Atlanta to northern Alabama. A recent study showed that the Silver Comet Trail attracts almost 2 million recreational users annually who generate nearly $50 million in spending in trail adjacent communities.
Today, the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is Middle Georgia’s most popular tourist destination – attracting 109,000 visitors and adding $5.4 million to the economy in 2010. In fact, America’s national parks are significant economic engines for their local communities. The parks receive only 1/13th of 1% of the federal budget, or roughly $2.9 billion annually. Yet park-based visitor spending adds $31 billion to the national economy, a 10-1 return on investment. In the case of the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, current economic impacts could grow substantially if the monument is expanded and linked to other public lands along the river, including the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and the Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Areas to the south. The true value of the monument to the region’s recreation and heritage tourism economy has yet to be realized.
We have a true jewel of historic, cultural, and natural resources in Middle Georgia. National Park and Preserve designation will do more than protect and preserve these treasures. Being Georgia’s only National Park and Preserve will drive an economic engine for Middle Georgia’s local businesses and our area’s profile as a destination for national and international visitors.