Tennessee’s 56 state parks encompass nearly 200,000 acres. The system operates six inns (642 total rooms) and conference centers, eight restaurants, nine golf courses, four marinas, 27 swimming pools, 35 different campgrounds that include more than 3,600 campsites, and 366 cabins scattered over 21 different parks.
Tennessee State Parks has a significant impact on Tennessee’s economy and creates direct and indirect employment in many rural areas where jobs are needed most and options for significant private sector investment and growth may be limited. In 2009, the University of Tennessee estimated the economic impact of state parks resulted in more than $725 million in direct expenditures by state park visitors. For every direct dollar spent, an additional $1.11 of economic activity was generated in the state. Direct and indirect expenditures, therefore exceeded $1.5 billion in total industry output. The UT study calculated that every general fund dollar spent on state parks created $17 dollars of direct expenditures and more than $37 dollars of combined direct, indirect and induced expenditures. This 1 to 17 investment to return ratio for direct expenditures from state park economic activity compares favorably with state investment decisions in tourism activities.
State Parks: Making Tennessee a Better Place to Live, Work and Play
Funding Support from Park Users and Citizens
Funding our Tennessee State Park System includes a blend or “right mix” of public, user, and charitable financing. This blending of both public funding and revenue generation has been the basis of funding since the inception of the Tennessee State Park system. Tennessee State Parks currently operates an annual budget of approximately $84 million. Roughly $39 million of the annual budget funding is provided by revenue generation through the sale of overnight accommodations, food and beverage, gift shop merchandise, and recreation activities. The remaining approximate $45 million of annual funding is provided by the tax paying public through annual appropriations made by the Tennessee General Assembly. This public support covers many state parks that have no revenue operations as well as funding non-revenue aspects, e.g. visitor centers, nature centers, and trails. Some state parks simply preserve scenic beauty and wildlife and serve as venues for low or no cost outdoor recreation and education. This funding also covers central office or indirect costs such human resources, information technology, legal and administrative support functions.
The General Fund supports operations and enables free access to all 56 Tennessee State Parks for an equivalent cost of $7 per citizen annually.
Our customer base is mixed and the demographics are changing. Most Tennesseans live within one hour of at least one state park, so many of our parks are locations for a day outing to enjoy the outdoors and participate in recreational activities ranging from bird watching to rigorous hiking. Our parks also welcome school buses full of students learning Tennessee history at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall or provide a day on a boat, at the golf course, or with family for Sunday brunch or Saturday night ribs and barbecue chicken buffet dinner. In addition to our day use customers, parks serve as affordable vacation option for families from in state and out of state. Our inns, cabins and campgrounds generated more than 350,000 nights of rentals last year. We estimate that about 30% of our overnight visitors are out of state tourists bringing their dollars to Tennessee. More than 11% of our inn and conference center sales is business from other state agencies, providing state government a very cost effective way to hold internal or external training sessions, business meetings, and workshops.
Tennessee State Parks is unique in state government as it must attract customers to select its products and services in an environment that resembles a traditional marketplace. While we remain true to Tennessee State Parks’ mission, we must also have strategies, investments and operations to ensure both competitive market position and margin performance to sustain park activity levels. It is our vision for Tennessee to have the best managed state park system in the nation. In order to do this, we will strive to enhance and maintain our highest value facilities while we conserve and protect our unique and valued resources so that future generations will enjoy the same quality outdoor experiences that their parents enjoy today and their grandparents enjoyed yesterday.
It is our vision for Tennessee to have the best managed state park system in the nation. We strive to enhance and maintain our highest value facilities while we conserve and protect our unique and valued resources so that future generations will enjoy the same quality outdoor experiences that their parents enjoy today and their grandparents enjoyed yesterday.