NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — State tourism officials know millions come to Tennessee every year for the music, the nightlife, and the energy of the cities. Then, a lot of things bring visitors here, and that includes places that are a whole lot quieter.
A report for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation puts it all into numbers. The report said in 2021, Tennessee state parks saw about 39 million visitors, and that makes up an economic impact for Tennessee of $2.1 billion.
"They all come to the park, but they also go to the local gas station and local restaurants, and they spend a lot of money in the local economy," TDEC's Jim Bryson said.
Bryson said Tennessee state parks are in a unique place to boost the economy because the state is within a day's drive for half the U.S. He said over these past two years, there have been dramatic increases in visits to the parks, increases of about 20% to 30%.
"The real step up with visitation has been with COVID," Bryson said. "When COVID hit, everyone was looking for a way to go somewhere that was safe, and our parks stayed open virtually the entire time."
While parks saw that boost, the start of the pandemic did take a toll on the number of visitors to Tennessee in general. A report by the US Travel Association saw a 32% drop in visitors here, though that's better than the national average at a 42% decline.
Bryson said these parks kept people traveling.
"They've bought RVs, they've bought kayaks," he said. "People have rediscovered the outdoors."