River recreation boosts Iowa’s economy

Elizabeth Polsdofer

There is nothing more picturesque in summer than a good beach on a sunny day. No matter what the water type, studies show that Iowans, given the chance, are flocking to water sources more and more for recreational purposes.

A study involving the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development and the Department of Natural Resources shows that in 2009, Iowans spent a total of $824 million in order to pursue recreational activities near water sources. Of that $824 million, it is estimated that $130 million resulted in personal income for Iowans.

“I think DNR was very interested in this [study] in terms of some guidance on what investments have the most payoff,” said Dan Otto, professor of economics at Iowa State. “So they’ve been interested in monitoring that and how attendance or use of a lake change after they dredge and do some water quality improvements.”

Nate Hoogeveen is the director of river programs, who believes that an increased access to water sources and higher quality water sources are the reason for more Iowans hitting the water.

“People are using the rivers and corridors around them more and more each year,” Hoogeveen said. “Our actual towns have been turning toward the river fronts in terms of developing riverfront active areas.”

Data for this study were collected by surveying individuals who were using river sources and asking them how much money they spent in gas, food and recreation services.

“We did a few intercept surveys or caught them as they were loading their boats,” Otto said. “Just ask what they spent in various capillaries … and then we kind of tallied that up by different types of recreation and parts of the state and arrived at these big bottle line numbers.”

While these data give great insight into public use of natural resources, Hoogeveen believes more information can be observed by doing another study of this sort.

“State government budgets are under a lot of pressure, and I don’t have funds identified right now to make that happen,” Hoogeveen said. “I think we’d really like to look at this again in the future.”

Both Otto and Hoogeveen agree that when it comes to quality of experience, the economics is really involved with providing a quality outdoor experience that people are willing to spend money on to enjoy.

“It’s really important for people to have places along flowing water,” Hoogeveen said. “They seem drawn to it.”