04.21.16 | By Jessica Hanson

In December, Earth Economics released a new report that found that the benefits of investing in the trails, parks, and open space of Alaska’s Mat-Su Borough return more than $5 for every $1 spent. Now, that same report is being used by Mat-Su Borough Assembly members to negotiate a proposed recreation bond in support of trails.

In 2013, Earth Economics assessed the region’s natural assets at a minimum of $20 billion in annual benefits to the regional economy.  This latest study, Economic Benefits of Trails, Parks, and Open Spaces in the Mat-Su Borough, represents the first-ever comprehensive analysis of a return on investment of Mat-Su open space. The study incorporates value from the natural landscape—rivers, lakes, mountains, trees—and the health benefits nature provides.

Natural spaces provide multiple benefits, from enhancing tourism values and increasing public and private land values to supporting physically and mentally healthy lifestyles and improving community resilience in the face of natural disasters. Not only do the Mat-Su’s open spaces act as buffer zones that protect communities from fire and floods, but they also support healthy, active local communities.

The study highlights figures that show just how valuable Mat-Su public lands really are:  

  • Opportunities for physical activity in open spaces can decrease healthcare costs and productivity losses by up to $3 million annually.
  • The Borough’s 1,438 acres of recreational land provide ecosystem services (like salmon habitat and water supply) at a value of over $1.8 million annually.
  • Both in- and out-of-state visitors support the local economy through food and lodging-related expenditures, recreational expenses, and more.
  • Direct, indirect, and induced tourism-related spending supports roughly 4,000 jobs and $282 million in revenue each year.   

“Thanks to Earth Economics for taking on this project to show how valuable parks, trails and open spaces are to our community” said Frankie Barker, Environmental Planner, Matanuska-Susitna Borough. “This study is a powerful resource for informing our local residents about the value of investing in public recreation.”

“Our results are consistent with similar studies we have seen from across the country,” Maya Kocian, Senior Economist at Earth Economics and author of the Mat-Su report, stated. “We hope the report will inform Mat-Su residents about the economic importance of their parks. The Mat-Su’s vast open spaces are truly a community asset.”

In March, Executive Director David Batker spoke with the Mat-Su Borough Assembly about its recreation economy, and the Borough is continuing to include this information in its discussions on recreation funding. When public open spaces and their natural assets are conserved, communities benefit economically, socially, and physically. Preserving trails, parks, and open space provides a high return on investment, and continuing financial support for public open spaces will ensure a high quality of life for Mat-Su residents now and in the future.  
The full report is available here.