Swamp helps economy

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2013

To the uninitiated, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge might seem like just a great empty space on the map of southeastern Virginia, but the area is truly one of the great natural resources of the East Coast.

Folks from across the country come for the annual spring birding festival and fall hunts, as well as activities such as tours, fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing and kayaking. The swamp’s rich cultural history, including its ties to the Underground Railroad, offers a historical perspective. It offers the chance for sharp-eyed adventurers to see all kinds of wildlife, from bear to butterflies, and the ever-present option to get away from it all.

But apart from the natural resources, the swamp apparently provides plenty of economic resources for the area.

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A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study found the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge generated $2.4 million for Suffolk and neighboring communities in fiscal year 2011. That’s $1.70 for every dollar appropriated — not a bad return, especially not after factoring in the intangible benefits like the experience local residents have available in their own backyard.

The study attributes the reported benefit to retail sales, taxes and job income related to visitor spending for recreation activities.

Nationwide, the study found wildlife refuges contribute $2.4 billion to the U.S. economy, supporting more than 35,000 private-sector jobs.

Refuge Manager Chris Lowie called the study’s findings positive, especially when compared against the fact the wildlife refuge budget nationally has been slashed $50 million since 2010, including $33 million in the past year because of sequestration.

Lowie warned that decreasing funding and volunteer hours will hamper the refuge’s ability to “maintain that level of stewardship people expect, which will reduce the economic benefit.”

It’s encouraging to hear the swamp contributes to the community in more than just the obvious ways. Local folks can help by calling the swamp (986-3705) to volunteer or by calling their legislators to encourage restored funding for wildlife refuges.