Outdoor recreation has become a major industry in the state of Georgia. Visits to state parks and historic sites had a $610.2 million impact on the economy in fiscal year 2015, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Close to home, visitors to four Northwest Georgia state parks — Red Top Mountain in Cartersville, James H. “Sloppy” Floyd in Summerville, Fort Mountain in Chatsworth and Cloudland Canyon in Trenton — had a collective $99.3 million dollar impact on their communities.
State Historic Sites including the Etowah Indian Mounds in Bartow County, New Echota in Gordon County, the Chief Vann House in Murray County and Picket’s Mill near Dallas contributed another $4 million economic boost.
Red Top Mountain State Park was the most-visited park in the state system last year with more than 629,500 guests.
Red Top, close to metro Atlanta and right off Interstate 75, attracts outdoor recreation enthusiasts who enjoy the experience of being on a backwoods trail as well as those who want to be out on the water.
“There’s a reason Cabela’s is so near to (Lake) Allatoona and Red Top,” said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for the DNR State Parks division, referencing the popular outdoor gear retailer in Acworth.
Tyler Lantz, who lives in Marietta, brings his kayaks to Red Top several times a month.
“I like to get out early in the morning and have a good time for a couple of hours before I head back,” Lantz said. “It puts me at peace for the rest of the day.”
In spite of the heavy visitation at Red Top, Lantz said he is amazed how quiet and peaceful the park can be early on a weekday morning.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m out here in the middle of the wilderness,” he said.
Gary Pruitt of Roswell was at Red Top on Thursday morning for an early hike on the Sweet Gum Trail, which runs close to the park lodge.
“I come up maybe three times a month. It’s one of the most beautiful areas to hike,” Pruitt said. “It’s not very strenuous, but there are some difficult stretches on it. It isn’t anything a beginner couldn’t adjust themselves to.”
Red Top was also No. 1 in terms of economic impact from overnight visitors. People who stayed in cabins or the campgrounds spent an estimated $19,942,296, according to the DNR.
It was also tops in terms of the economic impact from day visitors, with an estimated $28,237,156 pumped into the economy of the community around the park.
Bartow County Sole Commissioner Steve Taylor said Red Top Mountain State Park and the whole Lake Allatoona area are vital to the economy of the county.
“It’s pretty big tourism dollars for our community,” Taylor said. “We also make sure we share information about the park with potential (industrial) recruits.”
Lantz, who owns two kayaks, said he had an estimated $2,000 in gear with him at the park this past Thursday morning. Pruitt estimated that he had close to $300 invested in his backpack, special shoes and hiking stick.
Chattooga County Sole Commissioner Jason Winters said James H. Sloppy Floyd State Park, which attracted more than 93,600 visitors last year, is critical to the economy of Chattooga County. The state listed the total economic impact of the park at $7.1 million for fiscal year 2015.
“From the beginning of March through the end of November there are very few weekends where the campgrounds are not full and the cabins are not fully rented,” Winters said. “Those are people who are having a very positive experience in Chattooga County.”
He said many of those campers are buying groceries, camping supplies, fishing licenses and gear.
Day-trippers spend in other areas. Hatcher said when she travels to parks and historic sites, she makes an effort to eat in independent local restaurants.
Winters said he is aware of “more than a few” families who came to Sloppy Floyd Park to camp and ended up purchasing property in the county.
He said the county has used both local and state money to improve the road leading into the park and park facilities.
In northwestern Floyd County last year, the DNR reported, 280,169 visitors used the Rocky Mountain Recreation and Public Fishing Area. The state did not have economic impact numbers for the site.
Locally, more than $57,000 in revenue was generated by campsite rentals alone at Lock & Dam Park last year, according to the Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Department. Total revenues at the park totaled a little more than $83,360.
Amber Todd, manager of the Coosa River Trading Post in the park, said campsite rental was up 12.1 percent over 2014. Total revenue in 2015 was up 6.8 percent over the previous year.
Floyd County’s 2016 budget anticipates another 6 percent growth at the park, with revenues projected to approach $88,900.