Kent parks contribute $33M impact


Of the $33 million in economic activity, $14.7 million was spurred by nonlocal visitors, according to the report. Courtesy Kent County Parks

A new report shows Kent County parks generated more than $33 million in economic activity last year and created 317 jobs.

In 2018, about 1.4 million people visited at least one of the county’s 42 parks, greenspaces or regional trails, according to the report issued by the Kent County Parks Department in partnership with the Seidman research office at Grand Valley State University.

Of the $33 million in economic activity, $14.7 million was spurred by nonlocal visitors.

The study shows an estimated $14.1 million of the total was direct spending on meals, shopping transportation and more.

“The parks in Kent County play an important role in stimulating business and contributing to the West Michigan economy,” said Christian Glupker, clinical affiliate of economics in GVSU’s Seidman College of Business and lead investigator for the study. “It is eye-opening to understand the millions of dollars in economic activity generated by visitors who come to Kent County to enjoy its parks and trails.”

The study was compiled through a multimethodology approach, incorporating data from the 2018 Kent County parks needs assessment survey, a recent comparable study, data gathered by county staff and new field research.

This study focused on the economic impact of Kent County parks from three perspectives: spending resulting from park visitors, spending by the parks department and revenue generated by Kaufman Golf Course and Millennium Park beach.

The study shows that people who used trails spent an average of $28.30, and those who used parks spent an average of $8.74. Local trail visitors spent an average of $21.11 per person, and nonlocal trail visitors spent an average of $37.69 per person.

“This report illustrates how our park system improves the quality of life in our communities, creates jobs and spurs economic activity that ripples throughout our economy,” said Dan DeLooff, Kent parks superintendent.

With an annual operating budget of $6 million in 2019, Kent County seeks to provide residents with traditional park amenities and recreational opportunities. 

Of the total 7,300 acres under management, 80% is concentrated in 14 parks of 200 acres or more.

Amenities throughout the parks include: 22 picnic shelters; more than 60 picnic areas; seven enclosed shelters; 31 playgrounds; an 18-hole golf course; four public beaches; a campground; three disc golf courses; numerous boat launches and fishing access sites; two boat rental sites; and multiple sports fields, courts and ball diamonds.

The parks include more than 50 miles of natural and paved trails. In addition, the county manages 40 miles of regional multiuse trails that link communities, parks and other attractions.

Kent County implemented a five-year strategic plan earlier this year to expand the number of regional parks.

The county said it needs more than 3,000 additional acres of regional parks property to meet minimum suggested national guidelines based on population.

To make this happen, the county is working on plans to expand and connect some of its existing parks so they can meet the 200-acre requirement to be designed as regional parks. The county estimates this could happen with acquisitions of more than 300 additional acres, some of which have closed this year.

The county expects to meet the goal of 7,500 total acres by 2025, according to Matthew Van Zetten, assistant county administrator.

The additions of about 145 acres to Chief Hazy Cloud Park and 23 acres to Two Rivers Park have closed this year. 

Next year, the county expects to close on adding 122 acres to Lowell Regional Park, 4 acres to Millennium Park and 53 acres to Chief Hazy Cloud Park.

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