By Sen. Chip Pearson
ATLANTA (May 1, 2009) – Summer is quickly approaching, and this year the idea of planning a “staycation” at home is becoming a popular alternative to investing in pricey travel arrangements. At a time when money is tight and the luxuries in life seem few and far between, we need to consider what diversions our local communities have to offer.
Among our state’s many natural attractions, Georgia state parks are a true value for a day trip or a week-long getaway with the whole family. Parks provide a wide array of inexpensive activities for everyone. They are located in communities all across the state, with some of the most beautiful parks located right here in North Georgia’s 51st District. From Amicalola Falls with the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, to Vogel, the second-oldest state park in Georgia, and finally to the popular Unicoi State Park in Helen.
Georgia’s parks provide more than just fun recreational activities. They generate jobs and important economic development opportunities. Planning a trip to a nearby state park will save money on gas and travel expenses, and what’s more, the dollars spent will stay here in Georgia, greatly benefitting our state’s economy. If we are to improve our state’s financial health, we need to spend more of our money right here at home.
State parks play a vital role in our state’s economy. They make up a significant part of Georgia’s tourism industry, which is the second-largest industry in the state. Georgia’s tourism industry generated over $800 million for the state economy in 2007. This resulted in over 240,000 jobs and nearly $7 billion in resident wages. Clearly, the importance of state parks in today’s economy cannot be overlooked.
Funding for state parks was an important focus of the budget process during this year’s session. In the fiscal year 2010 budget, $16 million was appropriated for parks. To ensure the parks remain open and running smoothly, the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) board recently voted to raise daily parking fees and annual pass fees. According to DNR, revenue generated from parking fees is used for maintenance and repair projects at Georgia’s 63 state parks and historic sites. Annually, parking fees generate about $3 million in revenue. With the fee increase, expected annual revenue will be about $4.25 million. This was a necessary step to ensure the vitality of our state parks. However, they still remain one of the best vacation bargains available.
Our hometown region of Northeast Georgia boasts some of the most popular parks in the state, giving residents a number of valuable options for their next trip. During these tight economic times, I feel fortunate to live in an area that has such valuable resources, including natural attractions, thriving industries, a low cost of living and a growing population. In fact, the northeast region was recently highlighted on an economic tour of international dignitaries from 20 different countries. The tour showcased all that Northeast Georgia has to offer as the consulates from countries such as Japan, Brazil and Nigeria were given a first-hand look at the region’s businesses, education, attractions, and economic opportunities. Dawson County received its first visit on the annual tour, now in its 23rd year, when guests visited the Kangaroo Conservation Center. Now is the time to capitalize on international economic opportunities, ensuring our state continues to provide valuable resources to its citizens.
So as you make plans for you vacations and trips this summer, remember to include our own natural area, tourist attractions and our great state parks. You will truly discover more when you “Discover Georgia.
Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens, and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9921 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.