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Study finds river recreation generates jobs

AMES– Many of Iowa’s river towns are again embracing their waterfronts, and with good reason, according to a new statewide river use study. The overall economic impact from river recreation along 73 Iowa river and stream segments supports more than 6,350 jobs with $824 million in sales and $130 million of personal income.
“In addition to recreational benefits, the results show that there are sizable local economic benefits from spending by visitors,” said Dan Otto, Iowa State University economics professor and ISU extension economist.
The most visited river segment in the study, the Mississippi River from Clinton to Muscatine, had 1.1 million total trips for fishing, trails, relaxation and wildlife viewing, resulting in more than $35.9 million in total spending in 2009.
“Rivers have long been the lifeblood of Iowa communities and one of our state’s best attractions. These study results show just how large of an impact our rivers and streams have on local communities and state tourism,” said Nate Hoogeveen, the DNR’s rivers program coordinator. “We hope these findings encourage Iowans to discover nature along rivers and continue embracing vibrant waterfronts in towns.”
Researchers in the ISU department of economics and center for agricultural and rural development conducted the study with funding from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Easy access to the study’s information on use, common activities and economic impact for each river segment in the state is available through an interactive website at http://www.card.iastate.edu/environment/nonmarket_valuation/iowa_rivers/.
In 2009, almost 4,800 people responded to the researchers’ survey asking about river visitation patterns, activities and attitudes that affected respondents’ decisions to visit rivers. In phase two of this project, researchers focused on further analysis of the survey data to better understand what influences river and stream corridor use patterns and the economic impact of Iowa’s rivers and stream corridors.
Other highlights of phase two of the study include river segments ranked highest by visitation tend to be near population centers and river segments ranked highest by overall appeal differ considerably from those ranked by visitation numbers. When breaking down the overall appeal of a segment, canoeability, border rivers and the land use surrounding the river segment have significant effects.
ISU economics professors Joseph Herriges and Catherine Kling conducted and tabulated the survey. The researchers commend the results to the funding agencies as a useful tool to guide citizens and policymakers in their decisions about conservation expenditures to improve the outdoor recreation experience of Iowans in the most cost-effective manner.