ST. LOUIS, Missouri, October 5, 2009 (ENS) – Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has a new project in the works – to restart the state’s declining tourism industry by promoting Missouri’s state parks. He is eager to reverse the falling numbers of visitors at state parks, down 18.6 percent from 1999 to 2008.

The governor’s goal is to boost attendance at Missouri’s 83 state parks and historic sites by encouraging families to spend more of their tourism dollars in the ‘Show Me’ state.

The Governor Nixon talked up the idea Saturday to the Regional Business Council in St. Louis, and he promoted his plan earlier in the week to tourism leaders meeting in Branson on Wednesday.

“Our parks represent Missouri’s rich diversity of landscapes, ecosystems and cultural landmarks – from canyons to caves, waterways to woodlands, and Civil War battlefields to artists’ homes,” Nixon said. “Boosting attendance at our state parks will help preserve a vital part of our Missouri heritage. It also will help grow our tourism industry, even in light of our current economic challenges.”

In 1999, more than 18.2 million people visited Missouri state parks. The number of visitors to the parks in 2008 was 14.8 million, a decrease of 18.6 percent in 10 years.

“When times are tight, families are looking for value – but they also want a quality experience,” the governor said. “That’s where our state parks come in.

“For single visitors, retired couples or families with minivans full of kids, our state parks offer visitors the value they need with the unparalleled quality they want. We’ve got excellent destinations in every region of our state. We just need to market our parks as part of the complete package families are looking for.”

The Katy Trail State Park is one of the most popular in Missouri. Built on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, MKT, Railroad, known far and wide as the Katy, it is a long-distance hiking and bicycling trail that, when completed, will run almost 200 miles across the state.

In 1986, the railroad decided to cease operation on part of its route, opening the opportunity for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to acquire the right-of-way. The National Trails System Act provides that railroad corridors no longer needed for active rail service can be banked for future transportation needs and used on an interim basis for recreational trails.

Today, Katy Trail State Park is open for 225 miles from St. Charles to Clinton and is operated by the Department of Natural Resources as part of the state park system.

The majority of the trail follows the the Missouri River. Hikers and bicyclists often find themselves with the river on one side and towering bluffs on the other, and they can travel through dense forests, wetlands, deep valleys, remnant prairies, open pastureland and rolling farm fields.

Governor Nixon pointed to the beginning of construction on the Rock Island connector of the Katy Trail as one way to increase parks attendance in coming years. The connector will link the Kansas City area with the Katy Trail at Windsor.

This week, the Missouri Trail Summit is being held in Springfield by the Missouri Park and Recreation Association, MPRA, which supports “the integrity and continued extension of the Katy Trail corridor,” according to the organization’s legislative platform.

The MPRA is encouraging the governor, state legislature and the Department of Natural Resources to proceed with any actions necessary to ensure the Katy Trail’s completion, particularly a link from Pleasant Hill into Kansas City near Arrowhead Stadium and any remaining portions in the St. Louis area.

In addition, based upon the successful Great Rivers Greenway model in St. Louis, the MPRA says it supports legislation that would permit self-rule determination for funding of greenways and trails in other communities throughout Missouri.

The MPRA backs legislation that would enable counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area to establish a regional park and recreation district to support the development, operations and maintenance of an interconnecting system of trails and parks.

This enabling legislation would extend self-rule determination for establishment of a Kansas City regional district similar to the one already authorized for the greater St. Louis metropolitan area.

In September, the governor appointed Bill Bryan as deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and as director of the department’s Division of State Parks. Bryan most recently served as the state’s chief information officer.

“I’m confident Bill will do a terrific job, especially in forging the link between the Internet and promoting our state parks to a nationwide and worldwide audience of potential visitors,” the governor said.

“Many of the sharpest minds in our tourism industry are in this room today,” Nixon told the tourism conference in Branson. “As we look carefully at our resources and decide the best path forward, Bill Bryan and his team will be calling on you for ideas and suggestions. Together, we’ll find the most effective ways to harness the potential of our state parks for the benefit of our tourism industry and the entire state.”

To offer members of the public the opportunity to provide input regarding services in state parks and historic sites, the DNR is holding an open house Saturday, October 10, at Hawn State Park near Ste. Genevieve.

“This is about moving our entire tourism industry forward,” the governor said. “We’re talking about using our state parks to grow the size of the entire tourism pie so that all of our destinations and attractions benefit.

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