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Study Hopes To Show Economic Value Of Recreation On The Little Miami River

Kayakers on a rainy summer afternoon on the Little Miami near Spring Valley.
Chris Welter
Kayakers on a rainy summer afternoon on the Little Miami near Spring Valley.

Compared to other states, Ohio ranks relatively low in its amount of public land. That is part of the reason why Ohio State Professor Brent Sohngen is partnering with a local non-profit, the Little Miami River Watershed Network, to do a study about the economic value of natural areas near the Little Miami River.

After Native Americans were forcibly removed from Ohio in the 18th and 19th centuries, Sohngen said most land in the state went to private landowners. He said that led to development that has helped the state economically. However, nowadays, there is a demand for public outdoor recreational spaces.

“So these public spaces we know, because they're fairly scarce, are actually really super valuable and they're intensely used," he said. "So by providing these estimates of the sort of value per acre of public space, we hope to show the value to local communities of protecting the spaces that they have and making them as nice as they can make them.”

Sohngen said the value of natural areas was especially noticeable during the pandemic, when Ohio residents were looking for safe outdoor activities.

It is easier to get a sense of the value per acre of private land in Ohio, Sohngen said— just take a look at publicly documented land transactions. But for this study, volunteers from the Watershed Network are distributing flyers with a link to a digital survey that will collect data to provide an estimate of the value per acre of public land.

The survey asks questions about how frequently visitors use the natural area, how far they drive to get there, what recreational activities they like to do, and what amenities they use at the site.

A kayak and canoe livery along the Little Miami
Chris Welter
A kayak and canoe livery along the Little Miami River.

The surveyors will also count cars during different times of the day at the almost fifty different locations near the river they are surveying. Sohngen said the volunteers have already donated thousands of hours of their time to the study, which he said will give his team a massive amount of data to work with.

"My guess is our results will show that these areas are at least as valuable remaining as a natural asset for people to publicly access as it would be for developing it in any other way," he said.

The results of study will start to be released this month.

Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.