A Wisconsin Policy Forum report, This Land is Our Land, released earlier this year found that tax revenue for conservation and parks in Wisconsin has declined over the past several decades. Public funding for maintaining and expanding outdoor opportunities is stagnant or declining, despite increasing interest in outdoor recreation in the state.
The state’s main source of funding for land purchases, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, has diminished in size. Stewardship Program funding in 2022 was the lowest in two decades, down 83.2 percent from its peak in 2007. Stewardship Program dollars have helped finance the purchase of more than 723,000 acres of land by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Silent Sports Magazine notes that hiking or walking on trails is the most popular outdoor activity with 68 percent of residents reporting this type of outdoor activity, according to the 2019 through 2023 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
The make the case that Wisconsin has thousands of miles of trail for hiking, biking, and skiing, but our State Parks are in dire need of more funding to address an estimated $1 billion in deferred maintenance and infrastructure issues. While outdoor recreation added $8.71 billion to Wisconsin’s economy in 2022 and supporting more than 89,000 jobs, the state spends less than any other state, except Texas, on its parks.
We can do better! Investing in parks and land that offer Wisconsinites the outdoor opportunities they love is crucial for the well-being of our state and its residents.
Featured image by Ken Mattison, 2015.