UNESCO World Heritage Site designation would double visitation at the Okefenokee Swamp Park, create about 750 long-term jobs, and deliver $60 million in annual economic impact, according to a new study.
The report, commissioned by The Conservation Fund, would generate an additional 800,000 annual visits to the Okefenokee in addition to the more than 800,000 who currently visit the swamp each year.
Three new improvements being planned at the park – a state-of-the-art nature center in Waycross, a cultural history center in Folkston, and an observatory in Fargo – packaged together as the Okefenokee Experience would produce another $46 million in annual economic impact and nearly 50 additional jobs, the study found.
Advocates for the Okefenokee have mounted a campaign to convince the Georgia Environmental Protection Division not to approve a proposed titanium mine along Trail Ridge near the swamp. Legislation banning mining near the Okefenokee is pending in the state House of Representatives.
The bill’s backers say the new study lends more ammunition to the argument to keep mining away from the swamp.
“This report is tremendous news that shows the strong ROI (return on investment) and economic impact that both the World Heritage Site designation and completion of the Okefenokee Experience improvements would have on our region,” said Kim Bednarek, executive director of the Okefenokee Swamp Park.
“We are simultaneously protecting the swamp, opening it up to new visitors and audiences, and creating more jobs and tax revenues.”
“Beyond the headline numbers, this data shows that World Heritage will open the door for new small businesses, help the area attract and retain talent, and spark a positive cycle of reinvestment in Southeast Georgia,” added Lance Gloss, manager of The Conservation Fund’s Natural Resources Economy Program.
Local governments in the region and elsewhere in Georgia have lent their support to protecting the swamp.
Resolutions supporting the Okefenokee have passed the city councils in Albany, Savannah, Waycross, Valdosta, Homeland, Kingsland, St. Marys, Jesup, and Brookhaven. County commission resolutions have passed in Clinch, Echols, Ware, and DeKalb counties.
Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning we could earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.