The Benefits of Ohio Public Natural Spaces

Brent Sohngen, Dept. of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics

Ohio doesn’t have a mountain, and we aren’t all that close to the ocean, but what Ohio lacks in altitude or coastal amenities, our natural areas make up for in attitude.  Starting in early March, you can find Snow Trillium making their way through last years leaves.

And by early April, large leaf Trillium, Blue Cohosh, Blue Bells, and many other flowers carpet the forest floor.  A hike through the woods in Ohio can be pretty phenomenal any time, but especially in spring.

Historically, most of Ohio’s land has been in private hands.  For commerce and industry, agricultural production, timber production, mining, and housing –sectors that have contributed enormously to our incredible modern standard of living – private property rights are essential. The expansion of crop production throughout Ohio, from the pre 1900 days of clearing land to grow more food, to the modern era of investing in drainage, seeds, and equipment, is conditioned entirely on land residing in private hands.

One important benefit of private landownership has been an increase in wealth and income, which grew steadily over the last century and a half.  As a result of the wealth Ohioans have generated, an interesting thing has happened: We have invested some of that wealth into public lands for recreational and other uses.  Since 1960 we have increased publicly accessible lands by 750,000 acres.  And this counts just the stuff owned by government.  Private NGOs, like The Nature Conservancy and numerous local groups, have purchased natural land and opened much of it to the public.

The value of the outdoor recreation to Ohioans is worth $3.6 billion per year according to a study by some of us in AED Economics a few years ago (see it here).  Recreation on Ohio’s public lands is around a third of that.

Over the last year, as many of us have tried to figure out how to spend time outdoors and away from crowds, this public space has become even more important.  I suspect many of you, like me, have been amused (or maybe frustrated) at the number of cars in the parking lot of your local park, or the number of people on the multi-use trail. But imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t invested to expand our parks over the last 50-60 years?