Determining Economic Benefits of Park Trails: Management Implications

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Place: Table Rock State Park

Overview

This study found that most users of Table Rock State Park in South Carolina are willing to pay a fee to use the hiking trails in addition to the existing park entrance fee. The authors found that users were willing to pay a higher fee when they believed the trails were of higher quality.

Relevance

This study’s findings can be used to demonstrate that hikers place a positive value on their hiking experience, and that a trail access fee could be an alternative funding source for trail operations and maintenance. The authors’ approach of asking users a range of potential fee amounts could be used by trail managers interested in including or increasing fees for use.

Location

The study is based in Table Rock State Park in northern South Carolina, in Pickens County (population 119,483 in 2013). The park is about 40 minutes away from Greenville, South Carolina, population 59,944 in 2013. The park is roughly 3,000 acres with camping, swimming, and cabins in addition to trails.

Trail Type

The park has roughly 10 miles of developed, maintained hiking trails, ranging from moderate to strenuous difficulty.

Purpose

The study is intended to provide an estimate of the benefits received by users of developed trails to help parks to justify their trails operation and maintenance budgets to the public and elected officials, and to justify implementing or raising user fees. The study was funded by the South Carolina Park Service.

Findings

Sixty-two percent of respondents were willing to pay a trail use fee, beyond the current $2 park entrance fee.

On average, respondents were willing to pay a $4.76 fee per day to use hiking trails at the park. Those who believed the quality of the trails was high were willing to pay more, but there was no difference in willingness-to-pay for those who thought the trails were a good value given their existing fee. Multiplying this user fee by the 146,000 people who visit the park annually and would be willing to pay a fee (236,000 annual visitors x 62%), the authors estimate this fee could generate $292,000 in additional annual revenue for the park.

There was no difference in willingness-to-pay between hikers and non-hikers. This may have been because the fee was described as one specifically to use the trails, and would not affect non-hikers.

Methods

The authors intercepted visitors at the park, who were asked to fill out a survey on-site. Those who did not want to complete a survey on-site were sent one via mail. It is unclear how visitors were sampled, or if all visitors the authors saw were included. They intercepted 543 visitors, from whom 248 usable surveys were returned (46% response rate).

Users were asked whether they would pay a fee of a particular amount, ranging from $1 to $10 (different survey versions had different values). They were then asked a second fee question, but this time the fee ranged from $2 to $20 if the answer to the first was yes, and $0.50 to $5 if the answer to the first was no. Users were then asked whether their primary purpose for visiting the park was hiking, their satisfaction with the quality of the trails, their satisfaction with the value of the trails relative to the user fee, and how gas prices affected their decision to travel for outdoor recreation. These questions were followed by questions about the respondent’s age and education.

The authors used these data to estimate a statistical model of the average user’s willingness-to-pay to use the park.

Citation

Oh, C. and W. Hammitt. 2010. “Determining economic benefits of park trails: Management implications.” Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 28(2): 94-107.