GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Thousands of people take the cool plunge into one or more of Florida’s 1,000-plus springs each year, and each person derives $20 to $43 in recreational value beyond their travel expenses per visit, a new University of Florida study shows.
Springs are ideal destinations for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, picnicking and diving, and they’re one of the oldest tourist attractions in Florida. They’re so convenient that those who use them travel more than 80 miles each way, on average, to use them, according to the research from the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“People are willing to contribute to springs protection and restoration because they appreciate the unique aesthetic, cultural and recreation values and are an integral part of fresh water resources and ecosystems that define Florida,” said Xiang Bi, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics.
The state of Florida spent $365 million on springs’ restoration over the last seven years, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Given the value Florida puts on its springs, Bi led a study in which she and her colleagues wanted to estimate the recreational benefits for springs’ users. They surveyed 494 respondents at four North Florida springs. Through a combination of survey results and an economic formula, researchers found that springs’ visitors got between $20 and $43 per person per visit in recreational value.
About 3 million people visited Florida’s state springs in 2016-2017, Bi said. Their visits generated between $60 million and $130 million that year, she said. Those figures further illustrate the value of springs in Florida.
UF/IFAS researchers used the entrance fee to the parks as a way to estimate visitors’ willingness to pay for springs’ restoration and found they’re willing to pay $12.25 to $13.76 per person per trip to restore the parks they frequented.
In Bi’s survey, 83 percent made the springs into day trips, and on average, respondents traveled 80 miles each way to reach their destination. About 94 percent of the respondents were from Florida, and the rest came from Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Bi said her research suggests springs’ users value ecosystems for themselves and future users.
“Public funding to restore springs likely will benefit visitors as well as people who do not currently visit the springs because they would like to keep them for future generations or would like to keep them for the wildlife and ecosystem,” she said.
Bi’s study was funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and is published in the journal Water.
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