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Ecological Settings and State Economies as Factor Inputs in the Provision of Outdoor Recreation


State parks play a substantial role in the provision of outdoor recreation opportunities within the United States. Park operators must make crucial decisions in how they allocate capital expenditures, labor, and parkland to maintain recreation opportunities. Their decisions are influenced, in part, by the ecological characteristics of their state’s park system as well as the vitality of their state’s economy. In this research, we incorporate the characteristics of states’ ecosystems and their local economies into a formal production analysis of the states’ park systems from the years 1986 to 2011. Our analysis revealed all three factors of production were positive and inelastic. Expenditures on labor had the largest effect on both park utilization and operational expenditures. Our analysis also found a large degree of variability in the effects of ecological characteristics on both utilization and operating expenditures. Parkland utilization and operational expenditures were more elastic in areas such as Oceania and Mediterranean California relative to other ecological regions. These findings lead us to conclude that state park operators will experience variable levels of difficulty in both accommodating increasing demands for recreation from state parks and maintaining the existing quality of outdoor recreation provided within their system.

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  1. 1.

    Outdoor recreation is defined as experiences that result from recreational activities occurring in natural environments (Moore and Driver 2005).

  2. 2.

    Areas include all parks, recreation areas, natural areas, historical areas, environmental education areas, scientific areas, forests, fish and wildlife areas, and other undesignated areas managed within SPS. There is considerable heterogeneity in the types of areas managed across the 50 SPS (see Leung and others 2013 for detailed statistics on each system).

  3. 3.

    By production analysis, we refer simply to the analysis of one or more outputs for all combination of inputs (Chambers 1988).

  4. 4.

    We define park utilization as the amount of outdoor recreation opportunities that a SPS is producing for visitor consumption. We also define operating expenditures as the amount of money that operators spend in producing outdoor recreation opportunities. Operating expenditures exclude fixed capital expenditures (e.g., land acquisition and park construction).

  5. 5.

    We assume the annual visits to the park systems are of constant average quality. Even though, we know that the park systems must fulfill mandates to serve all users, and therefore operators are more likely to vary the quality of services and not as likely to ration the number of users to maintain service quality.

  6. 6.

    However, some state commissions, such as those in Oregon and Washington, are tasked with providing outdoor recreation through their SPS in a coordinated manner.

  7. 7.

    Since the coincident index is a leading indicator, we lag the index 1 year to coincide more closely with the tax revenue receipts that fund state government operations.

  8. 8.

    A generalized Hausman specification test of the two response equations rejected the null that the coefficients were similar (χ 2 = 789.42) (Cameron and Trivedi 2009, p. 427).


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The National Association of State Park Directors supported this research. We thank Dr. Yu-Fai Leung and his staff for supplying the Annual Information Exchange (AIX) database and suggesting the possible exogenous influences of ecological regions on attendance.

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Correspondence to Jordan W. Smith.

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Siderelis, C., Smith, J.W. Ecological Settings and State Economies as Factor Inputs in the Provision of Outdoor Recreation. Environmental Management 52, 699–711 (2013).

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  • Production analysis
  • State parks
  • Ecological regions
  • Factor inputs