Overnight Stays in Ohio State Parks Rose 8% in '09
Funding for state parks is dropping, but attendance at Ohio-owned campgrounds, lodges and cottage isn't.
The number of overnight stays in state parks through November was 632,533, an increase of about 8% from the same period in 2008, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported Thursday (Dec. 17).
In that period, the average length of a stay at state-owned facilities increased 14%, from 2.56 nights to 2.91 nights, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The state's 74 parks have nine resort lodges, 518 cottages and 57 campgrounds with more than 9,000 camping sites. Camping is the reason for the majority of these stays, consistently accounting for more than 90 percent of all state-park overnight stays in the past five years.
Karen Raymore, executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association, said she's not surprised about these increases because she has seen similar improvement for businesses that serve visitors to the area's state parks.
"Hocking Hills (State Park) is our top attraction here," Raymore said. "We definitely saw an increase in (area) business in 2009."
Raymore said Hocking County's lodging-tax revenue, which includes taxes levied on stays at state-owned cottages, was up 4% this year.
Raymore added that travel-industry research has shown that the buzzwords for vacation travel this year have been nature, affordable and close to home, so it makes sense that state parks have had an increase in visitors.
But ODNR spokeswoman Cristie Wilt said increased revenue from the overnight visitor stays is not offsetting cuts in state funding.
In the budget year that ended June 30, 2008, ODNR earned $17.7 million from park stays. In the 2009 budget year, it was $18.5 million.
At the end of 2008, about 40% of the parks budget came from the state. The remainder was a mix of fees and charges generated by use of the state parks and a variety of other smaller funds.
The state's budget crunch, however, has forced ODNR to reduce park staffing by a third since 1992 (it is at 458 full-time and about 1,000 part-time employees), and the agency has a backlog of more than $550 million in maintenance projects.
A study completed by the department this year estimated that it would cost $96.5 million a year to run the recreational arm of ODNR, but the actual operating budget was only about $70 million. The pending state budget would slash that figure to $49 million in 2010, Wilt said.