By Times Staff
Sneads – The State of Florida’s plan to save $239,268 by closing Three Rivers State Park would actually cost the businesses of Jackson County more than $1.2 Million a year.
A review of the state-prepared economic impact figures for the park presents a surprising story. Far from being an economic drain, Three Rivers provides a major boost to the economy of Jackson County – particularly the Sneads area.
Since 2004, Three Rivers State Park has hosted 80,073 visitors. The state estimates that the total economic impact provided by the park over that same period of time is $3,233,879. It is believed that the money spent in the local area by park visitors creates 25 jobs, only 3 of them state employees, and has resulted in sales tax collections over the last four years of $292,135.86.
In addition, the recommendation to close the park comes at a time when it is reporting its highest visitation numbers in years. The number of people visiting Three Rivers has increased by more than 3,000 people a year since 2004 and the annual economic impact of the park has increased by nearly $360,000 over the same period of time.
These figures, prepared by the state, indicate that the economic impact of closing the park would be much greater than was indicated in initial reports. Far beyond the 3 state employees that would risk losing their jobs, a closure of Three Rivers would cost Jackson County and the Sneads area in particular an estimated 22 private sector jobs. Businesses would lose $1.2 million per year in expenditures made by park visitors while the county and state would lose nearly $88,000 per year in sales tax revenue.
The park has been a fixture in Jackson County since 1955. When Lake Seminole was developed during the 40s and 50s, state and federal officials planned a series of such parks that would bring thousands of visitors to the Florida shore of the lake and provide a major economic boost to Jackson County. A number of the parks, however, were never built.
Over its 53 years of existence, Three Rivers has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors and pumped tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. The park preserves a beautiful setting of rolling hills and shoreline along the sparkling blue waters of Lake Seminole. Facilities include picnic areas, hiking trails, boat landings, camping areas and cabin facilities.
The park is located on land owned by the U.S. Government, as it has been since it was established, but is under long-term lease to the state. State authorities have proposed that it be closed and the land returned to the federal government, a move that would not guarantee that facilities will remain open for public use. Federal authorities, in fact, have turned a number of their own recreational areas over to area counties to operate and some facilities constructed at the cost of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been closed.
Since 2004, Florida’s state budget has increased by more than $11 Billion. After discounting sales tax generated, the closure of Three Rivers would save the state only $151,299 while costing the local economy over $1.2 million and endangering 25 local jobs, all at a time when the nation’s economy is reported to be at its worst level since the Great Depression.
If you are concerned about this issue, please send a copy of this article to Marti Coley, Brad Drake, and other State Legislators.