February 12, 2024

Impact Study Shows World Heritage Designation, Okefenokee Experience Would be Huge Wins for Georgia

This news release was originally published by Okefenokee Swamp Park and was republished here with permission.

WAYCROSS, Ga. — Today, the Okefenokee Swamp Park announced the release of a new economic impact study showing that the pending World Heritage Site designation in conjunction with the planned Okefenokee Experience would have significant economic impact on the region surrounding the swamp, resulting in an up to 100% increase in visitation, resulting in an additional 800,000 annual visits that would generate roughly 750 long-term jobs and $60 million in additional annual economic output.

The report, commissioned by The Conservation Fund, found that over 800,000 people currently visit the Okefenokee each year, spending $91.5 million in Ware, Charlton, and Clinch Counties. If the bid to designate the Okefenokee as a World Heritage Site is successful, the region can expect the number of visits to double to 1.4 million or 1.6 million visits by 2035. Additionally, the region can expect to gain as many as 750 new jobs and grow its economic output by over $60 million. World Heritage site designation would bring both international and overnight visitors, dramatically increasing spending in the region and creating a substantial opportunity for new small businesses.

Concurrent with the World Heritage site bid, the report also looked at the economic impact of the planned Okefenokee Experience–a series of three new infrastructure projects and one new visitor center at separate entrance sites to the Swamp. They include:

  • In Waycross in Ware County, a state-of-the-art Nature Center, located on the Okefenokee Swamp Park campus, showcasing the tremendous diversity of the plants and wildlife within the swamp.
  • In Folkston in Charlton County, a Cultural History and Community Center, that will celebrate the rich history of Native Americans, formerly enslaved people, and “swampers,” who each tapped the resources of the swamp in varied ways.
  • In Fargo in Clinch County, a Dark Sky Observatory, situated underneath the darkest skies on the east coast and with the potential to become a research hub.

 

Together, development of these projects would generate 362 new jobs during construction, an additional $46 million in economic output, and total tax revenue of $4.6 million. Ongoing operation of the facilities is likely to sustain at least 47 new jobs and generate over $430,000 in annual tax revenue.

Kim Bednarek, Executive Director of the Okefenokee Swamp Park, said, “This report is tremendous news that shows the strong ROI and economic impact that both the World Heritage Site designation and completion of the Okefenokee Experience improvements would have on our region. We are simultaneously protecting the Swamp, opening it up to new visitors and audiences, and creating more jobs and tax revenues for our region. It truly is a win-win, and we are excited about the future!”

Lance Gloss, The Conservation Fund’s Natural Resource Economy Program Manager, said, “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.”