Hungry Mother Nate Clark

Nate Clark, manager of Hungry Mother State Park, stands at the Camp Burson sign at the entrance to the park.

Hungry Mother State Park saw an increase of nearly $1 million in 2018 over the previous year in economic impact due to increased visitation.

According to Nate Clark, park manager, the total for last year was $8.4 million compared to $7.5 million in 2017. That trend has continued upward the past few years with $6.7 million in 2016 and $6.6 million in 2015.

“Increased attendance and visitation, particularly overnight visitation (campers and cabins), have all contributed to the increase,” Clark said.

In 2018 the estimated number of jobs attributed to having the park in the community was 128, Clark said. Those are jobs directly related to the economic impact that the park has stimulated. 

According to an economic impact report from the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business, Virginia State Parks helped stimulate more than $249.1 million in visitor spending in 2018.

“This annual report really solidifies what everyone in the community already knows,” said Clark, “that having Hungry Mother in the Smyth and Marion communities brings in thousands of people to the park every year that otherwise likely would not have visited the area. And those visitors spend money in the community; restaurants, local shopping, gas stations, grocery stores and more. That money directly contributes to the local economy, jobs and tax income.” 

“The economic impact of Virginia’s state park system has continually trended upward in recent years,” said report author Dr. Vince Magnini of Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. “Because most Virginia State Parks are in rural areas, this impact makes valuable contributions in the state’s regions most in need of such economic activity.”

Clark said that Hungry Mother works closely with local government, tourism and economic development and other initiatives. 

“It's a great relationship that we all benefit from and serves to better the community,” he said. “When visitors spend several days at the park they don't stay in the park the whole time, they go into town and eat, shop and explore the area. Our staff is able to make recommendations on restaurants, shopping and other local attractions that get these same visitors out in the community. We're fortunate to have the local relationships that we do and constantly want to grow and improve those relationships, for everyone's benefit.”    

Magnini cites numerous factors contributing to the increase for state parks, including the construction of yurts, the addition of parks, such as Natural Bridge State Park and Widewater State Park, and a system-wide focus on increased customer service.

Hungry Mother is working to increase visitor experience through programs and services. The Virginia Master Naturalist program is creating new volunteers for the parks as participants learn how to be certified and knowledgeable volunteers.

The local Holston Rivers Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program began in 2007 and is based in Southwest Virginia around the Holston Rivers watershed. Graduates of the program have played important roles in helping Hungry Mother expand visitor programs and protect park resources.

“I think people want to volunteer and don’t know how, so this class introduces you to people who can help,” said Tanya Hall, chief ranger for visitor experience at Hungry Mother. “At Hungry Mother we’ve really benefitted from the program because we’ve had many people come from it to volunteer here. We benefit by being able to offer more programs to our visitors.”

As part of the Virginia State Park system, Hungry Mother offers its own unique array of experiences for both residents and visitors to the state. The attributes of a lake, with swimming, sunbathing, boating, and fishing, and woods for hiking, camping, picnicking and geocaching, as well as restaurant, festivals and a retreat area provide locals as well as visitors an entertaining and educational experience.

According to the Virginia Tech report, of the $249.1 million spent in the state last year, about 46 percent, $113 million, was by out-of-state visitors.

The total economic activity stimulated by Virginia State Parks during 2018 was approximately $338 million, and the total economic impact of the parks that year was approximately $267 million. Economic impact is a measure of “fresh money” infused into the state’s economy that likely would have not been generated without the park system.

According to the report, for every $1 of general tax revenue allocated to state parks in 2018, an average of $14.06 was generated in fresh money that would not be there if not for the parks.

The economic activity stimulated by visitation to Virginia State Parks supported approximately 3,858 jobs in the state in 2018 and was responsible for roughly $133 million in wage and salary income.

Economic activity stimulated by Virginia State Parks generated about $24 million in state and local tax revenues, and as such, $1.26 in state and local taxes were generated for every dollar of tax money spent on the park system.

“The report documents what we’ve known for years: State parks are an economic engine in local communities and they provide an extraordinary return on investment for Virginia taxpayers,” said Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Clyde Cristman. “Last year, out-of-state visitors spent around $113 million as the result of our state park system – an incredible return on only $18.9 million in general fund appropriations.”

The report notes that state parks improved the lives of all Virginians. According to the report, parks have a substantial positive influence on the value of nearby real estate and attract a steady stream of visitors who insulate the economy from economic downturns. Parks are also valued by non-visitors.

“Millions of visitors each year allow Virginia State Parks to positively impact state and local economies,” said Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver. “But each visitor also plays an important part in the future of our state parks. Through conscientious stewardship and responsible resource management, we are able to share everything Virginia State Parks have to offer while we conserve and protect Virginia’s natural resources for future generations.”

For more information about Virginia State Parks, visit

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