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The recreational value and social cost of national parks: an application of the travel cost method


Studies that value the natural resources and recreational opportunities of a National Park have been explored for some time. Of the myriad techniques used to determine these values, our study uses the Travel Cost Method (TCM) to estimate the consumer surplus (CS) value per-visit for several National Parks surveyed in 2022. Previous studies have typically been conducted for one site or region at a time. Our data is novel in that it contains survey results from five different National Parks as part of the first year of the Socioeconomic Monitoring Survey conducted by the National Park Service (NPS). The parks range in size, purpose, and popularity, and we examine heterogeneity in CS estimates across these differences. Many of our CS estimates are new to the TCM literature, and some provide an update to existing estimates. In addition, we use the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) to calculate the social cost of trips to the surveyed parks. These results are used to determine the total social cost of visitation, how costs would change if social costs were incorporated into the travel cost, and finally how visitation would change in this scenario. Our methodology builds on previous literature in the TCM space by incorporating econometric techniques to address multi-purpose visitors and on-site data collection. We find that our CS estimates are in line with previous TCM estimates. When social costs are incorporated, we estimate that there would be fewer visitors to the parks when social costs exceed an individual's estimated willingness to pay, if social costs were hypothetically incorporated via a carbon tax. Our study contributes to both the methodology of TCM studies and CS estimates of use-value for natural resources and can inform future authors on how to incorporate outside data (such as the SCC) to a well-established field. In addition, our estimates can be used by the NPS to inform policy decisions and benefit-cost analysis.


2023 Summer.
Includes bibliographical references.

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