Assert as a Vital Public Service

Position Recreation and Conservation as a Vital Public Service

Outdoor recreation contributes to a strong economy and is a public investment like other public services such as transportation, utilities, and emergency services. Some communities have realized the multiple benefits that recreation and conservation lands provide and have dedicated funds to support them. For example, the City of Spokane dedicates 8 percent of general fund revenue to parks and recreation.[1] During challenging funding times, it is important for the recreation and conservation community to articulate clearly the importance of park and recreation services locally, regionally, and statewide.

The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board’s Unifying Strategy will support recreation and conservation as a vital public service through the following actions:

  • Providing funds to Build, Renovate, and Maintain Parks and Trails for a variety of outdoor recreation and conservation needs,
  • Providing funds to Conserve Habitat to support ecosystem services,
  • Committing to Maintain and Improve the Mapped Inventory of outdoor recreation and conservation land and facilities to know where there are gaps in the parks, trails and conservation land system,
  • Striving to Distribute Funds Equitably Across the State to all regions of the state,
  • Improve Program Outreach and Access to reach new partners, and
  • Making Changes to the Grant Programs to encourage improve the health of youth and increase physical activity of seniors.

Partners can also help position recreation and conservation as a vital public service by including the following recommendations in their work.

Promote the Outdoor Recreation Economy

The outdoor recreation economy in Washington generates an estimated $21.6 billion in annual expenditures supporting nearly 200,000 jobs.[2] Nationally, outdoor recreation contributes $887 billion in consumer spending and supports 7.6 million jobs. Compared to other economic sectors, outdoor recreation creates more consumer spending than pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles and parts, and household utilities.[3] Nationally, local and regional parks contribute $140 million in economic activity and support almost 1 million jobs.[4]

The Recreation and Conservation Office will update the 2015 Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State, if funding is available, to keep the spotlight on the current economic benefits of outdoor recreation and conservation. In addition, new data from the United States Department of Commerce regarding the economic contribution of outdoor recreation to the gross national product will be available by the end of 2018.[5]

Promote the Benefits of Outdoor Recreation and Conservation

In addition to the economic benefits, recreation and conservation areas provide a multitude of other benefits. Parks help build community as described in the priority to Improve Park Equity. Parks and public open space also provide ecosystem services such as aesthetic beauty, wildlife habitat, water filtration and storm water management, and carbon sequestration. The ecosystem services contributed by recreation and conservation areas are estimated between $134 billion and $248 billion a year.[6] Paths and trails connect people to the pedestrian and biking transportation system.[7]  And parks and trails are one of the key methods to increasing the physical activity of residents to address health issues.

Improve Communication Tools

The recreation and conservation community lacks the communication tools needed to position the sector as a vital public service that contributes to the local and state economy. There needs to be a consistent method for stating the vitality of outdoor recreation and conservation efforts to our communities.

Recreation providers seek support to help them tell their stories and communicate it to the right audiences including their users and policy makers. A toolkit or other resources would assist recreation providers with sharing their messages and framing their work within the broader context of public services so they can proactively promote recreation and conservation needs. Recreation providers can learn from one other and share success stories to leverage their experiences.

Maintain Mapped Inventory

The Recreation and Conservation Office will maintain and improve the recreation and conservation Mapped Inventory. Users can locate parks, trails, and conservation lands, and identify gaps in the recreation and conservation system. The office also created the Level of Service map as a first step to analyzing the need for recreation and conservation services geographically at the state, regional, and local scale.

Maintain Funding and Identify Funding Gaps

Outdoor recreation experiences cannot be supported by user fee programs alone. While certain types of recreation such as camping, sports, or boating can be partly supported by fees, there are other recreation activities that are difficult to support because they do not generate revenue. Many of the most popular activities are typically free or nearly free such as walking, enjoying nature, and going to the playground. Keeping certain recreation opportunities free and low-cost is key to outdoor recreation as a vital public service and must be financially supported with non-fee funding sources.

The Recreation and Conservation Office conducted a survey of outdoor recreation providers and conservation land managers in 2017 which included questions about current funding sources and funding gaps. Fifty-eight people responded to the survey representing federal, state, and local government, tribes, land trusts and other non-profits, and private industry. Below are the results of the funding questions from the survey.[8]

Revenue Sources

To assess the how providers and land managers fund services, they were asked “In a typical year, what percent of funding does your organization receive from each of the following types of revenue below?” The two largest sources of review of local government were general property taxes and leases or rentals. For state agencies, the largest source of funding was grants from the Recreation and Conservation Office. For federal agencies, the largest sources were user or program fees and other sources. Tribes mostly rely on gifts and donations and grants from the office.

Percent of Revenue Sources for Services

Funding Type Overall Federal Agency Land Trust Local Gov. Other Non-Profit State Agency Tribal Gov.
Bond Issues 2% 0% 0% 1% 1% 13% 0%
General property taxes 14% 0% 1% 29% 1% 3% 0%
Gifts or donations 15% 5% 46% 1% 21% 2% 40%
Leases or rentals 13% 5% 1% 24% 5% 0% 0%
Levies 3% 0% 0% 6% 2% 1% 0%
Other 17% 40% 19% 7% 29% 14% 38%
Public or private grants (not from the WA State Recreation and Conservation Office) 7% 2% 21% 4% 8% 5% 5%
Recreation and Conservation Office grants 7% 7% 11% 4% 6% 20% 18%
Special use or event permits 1% 1% 0% 2% 1% 0% 0%
User or program fees 21% 40% 0% 22% 27% 42% 0%

Funding Issues

Survey participants also were asked “How important are each of the following funding issues to you? Rank each issue on a scale of 1 (low priority) to 5 (high priority).” The most important funding issue was money to pay for existing facilities.  Overall rank is an average based on all responses. Funding to maintain and renovate existing parks, trails, and conservation areas is identified as a priority in this plan. See the Sustain Our Legacy section.

Ranking of Funding Issues (high to low)


Issue Overall Rank
Existing facilities, operational and maintenance costs4.00
Developing new outdoor recreation facilities or trails3.83
Increasing capacity3.61
Operating and maintaining existing recreation and education programs3.50
Acquiring land for parks, trails and beaches3.48
Habitat preservation or restoration3.28
Planning for development3.13
Acquiring land for open space, natural areas and wildlife habitat3.04
Training for staff, volunteers and friends groups2.89
Environmental or cultural studies, clearances and permits2.39
Improving technology to provide outdoor recreation services2.28
Acquiring land for cultural or historic sites1.80
Monitoring and maintenance of prehistoric or historic sites1.78

[1] City of Spokane Website, “City of Spokane Charter”, City of Spokane Charter,, 2017.

[2] Briceno, Tania and Schundler, Greg, “Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State” Economic analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State,, 2014.

[3] Outdoor Industry Association, The Outdoor Recreation Economy,, 2016.

[4] National Parks and Recreation Association ,The Economic Impact of Local Parks,, 2015.

[5] Public Law Number 114-26, “Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act”,, 2016.

[6] Briceno, Tania and Schundler, Greg, “Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State” “Economic analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State”,, 2014.

[7] Washington State Department of Transportation, “Washington State Bicycle Facilities and Pedestrian Walkways Plan”,, 2008.

[8] Hedden, Brent, “2017 Washington State Recreation and Conservation Plan, Provider Survey Results”., 2017.

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