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Visitors to county parks want 'dynamic experiences,' report says 

An annual report from the SLO County Parks and Recreation Commission touted the potential of county parks to draw in more visitors from inside and outside the area, bringing in more revenue and other benefits with them.

"The business from county Parks and Recreation generates jobs, funnels dollars to local businesses, increases property values, stimulates volunteer support, provides job training for youth, and fosters a strong sense of community by bringing people together," said the report, provided to the SLO County Board of Supervisors on April 9. "It's one of the best investments San Luis Obispo County has ever made and will continue to be one of the best investments in our future."

According to the report, more than 2 million people visited county parks last year and created an estimated economic value of $495 million between park revenue, higher property values and taxes, reduced health care costs, and environmental services. That value was created on a budget of $127 million, according to the report.

The report went on to argue that the county could do more for both local visitors and those from outside of the area. It recommended completing long-awaited projects like the Santa Margarita Garden Trail, the Morro Bay to Cayucos connector, and the Bob Jones Trail, as well as making improvements to Nipomo parks. The report also recommended that the county add funding for marketing to the parks budget that would pay for videos and other branded content to help create more visibility for the county parks and recreation offerings.

Those and the other recommendations in the report will cost money. The report recommended that the county hire another park planner for the department who will be dedicated to aggressively seeking out grants and other funding sources to help finish projects. The report also floated the idea of creating an assessment district, increasing sales tax, or even exploring asking voters to approve a bond measure.

The payoff could be worth the additional price tag. The report stated that creating "dynamic" and "experience-based" park offerings—such as expanding hiking trails, camping, and partnering with other community organizations like SLO Cal and Arts Obispo—would keep visitors engaged and coming back.

"Residents and visitors are doing their part to show engagement and investment in a sustainable parks system," the report stated, "and it is up to us to continue to do our part to meet the challenge of operating and developing a dynamic Parks and Recreation experience for the benefit of locals and tourists." Δ

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