More than 20 million people visited Missouri state parks in 2016, setting a new attendance record and marking the first time that milestone was achieved, according to the office of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
In 2009, Nixon said he set out to reverse a decade-long decline in attendance at state parks by embarking on an initiative to improve the parks, and set a goal of 20 million annual visitors in the parks by 2016.
“Missourians recognize the natural treasures we have in our state parks, and again supported the renewal of the Parks, Soil and Water sales tax with its highest margin ever in November,” Nixon said.
“In turn, we’ve not only invested millions of dollars to maintain our parks and enhance the experiences of visitors, we’ve expanded our park system at the same time other states are closing or even selling their state parks. And as always, there’s no admission fee to enter and enjoy Missouri state parks.”
Among the parks seeing significant attendance gains in 2016 were:
• Castlewood State Park, which had over 775,000 visitors (up from 660,000 in 2015).
• Dr. Edmund A. Babler State Park, which had more than 675,000 visitors (up from 298,000).
• Elephant Rocks State Park, which saw over 345,000 visitors (up from 300,000).
• Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, which had over 365,000 visitors (up from 318,000).
• Long Branch State Park, which had over 442,000 visitors (up from 395,000).
• Mastodon State Historic Site, which had over 553,000 visitors (up from 480,000).
• Onondaga Cave State Park, which had over 315,000 visitors (up from 254,000).
• Sam A. Baker State Park, which had over 1,264,000 visitors (up from 1,097,000).
• St. Francois State Park, which had over 294,000 visitors (up from 265,000).
• St. Joe State Park, which saw over 629,000 visitors (up from 579,000).
• Table Rock State Park, which had over 1,224,000 visitors (up from 1,033,000).
• Trail of Tears State Park, which had over 152,000 visitors (up from 105,000).
• Washington State Park, which had over 271,000 visitors (up from 214,000).
• Watkins Mill State Park & State Historic Site, which had 493,000 visitors (up from 454,000).
• Weston Bend State Park, which saw 236,000 visitors (up from 181,000).
In July last year, Nixon dedicated Echo Bluff State Park in Shannon County. The new park has not only brought in more than 300,000 visitors during its first five months of operation, it has also become a driver of the local economy, through the construction jobs at the park site before it opened as well as the dozens of jobs needed to staff the park.
On Dec. 10 last year, Missouri opened 47.5 miles of trail between Pleasant Hill and Windsor along the Rock Island spur of the Katy Trail State Park, enabling hikers and bicyclists to travel cross-state from the Kansas City area all the way to the St. Louis area along the world-renowned Katy Trail.
Missouri now has 91 state parks and historic sites.
Missouri trails and state parks are important drivers of tourism and economic activity. Nixon also said that the number of visitors to Missouri hit an all-time record of 41.7 million in 2016. An economic impact study found that visitors to state parks produced an overall economic impact of $1.02 billion and supported more than 14,000 Missouri jobs.
Missouri lawmakers have made a significant investment in the existing state parks and historic sites that make up the park system. During fiscal years 2014 and 2015, approximately $18 million was invested in improving and maintaining facilities in the park system.
An additional $10 million in investments in improvements to state parks and historic sites throughout Missouri is currently being made through a strategic bond issuance, made possible by the state’s strong fiscal discipline.
Last fall, Missouri voters overwhelming reapproved Missouri’s Parks, Soils and Water sales tax by its highest margin ever, with 80 percent of voters supporting the initiative. Missouri’s Parks, Soils and Water sales tax is the primary source of funding for Missouri’s nationally acclaimed state parks and historic sites.