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Fun at Mississippi’s state parks creates million-dollar payoff

Having fun outdoors at Mississippi’s state parks is a big business. Visitation at the state parks is on the rise with about 4 million visitors expected in 1998, creating about $10 million in revenue.

“We are having an extremely good spring,” said director of state parks Latrelle Ashley.

“We feel like we are on a record pace. This might be a record year. Camping, by the way, has been on a tremendous upswing in Mississippi. Last year, we had a 17% growth in camping.”

Most visitors to state parks are from Mississippi, but the parks also draw in a large number of visitors from other states. For example, at the new championship golf course at Percy Quin State Park in McComb, about 60% of the golfers are from Louisiana.

“We bring a lot of tourist dollars to Mississippi,” Ashley said. “We’re getting a lot of snowbirds staying with us all winter now during the slower part of the season. And every dollar that comes in turns over seven times in the economy. The parks are very beneficial to counties and towns they are close to, and also to the entire state of Mississippi.”

Visitors buy gasoline to travel to the parks, and often eat in restaurants during their travels. The parks also provide employment to 280 full-time employees and 276 part-time summer employees.

“We’re really big in the food business as well,” Ashley said. “We do a lot of banquets and meals for group camping, and three parks have restaurants. Food is a large part of our revenue source.”

Ashley attributes the increase in visitorship to the 29 state parks to several factors. The “baby boomer” generation is starting to retire, the entire economy of the country is doing better so people have more disposable income for recreation, and advertising and special events at the parks are attracting more people. Special events include those such as the Great American Birthday Party at Paul B. Johnson State Park south of Hattiesburg, a Fourth of July celebration that attracts 10,000 visitors.

“I think the best thing is that every park can give you a beautiful outdoor setting to relax in,” Ashley said. “People seem to want to return to nature and to escape problems of work. It gives them a safe place to go. It gives people the opportunity to spend time with their family.”

The parks are also popular for conventions and meetings. Many of the parks have meeting facilities that are ideal for business seminars.

Improvements are planned to further improve state park attractions. For example, a 600-state theater under construction at Roosevelt State Park is expected to be completed in the spring of 1999.

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