The French Broad River’s $3.8 billion economic impact

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$3.8 billion in economic impact. That’s more value than the Blue Ridge Parkway ($1.3 billion) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park ($1.4 billion) combined.

According to new numbers from the French Broad River Partnership, that’s how much value the French Broad River and its tributaries bring to Avery, Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Transylvania, and Yancey counties on an annual basis.

We always knew our river was a powerhouse (think: The 1916 Flood). But if you weren’t already marveling over the importance of the French Broad, maybe these numbers will change your mind.

But wait, how do you even calculate the value of a river?

Surveys, baby. FBRP partnered with Dr. Steve Ha of Western Carolina University to survey 450+ river users and 100+ regional businesses that rely on the river for all or part of their operations and revenues. The questions studied the behaviors + habits of river users, the operations and revenue of businesses, and any concerns that either parties held about water quality and river health.

Through these surveys, researchers assessed that:

  • The watershed receives 6.9 million river-influenced visitors per year. Those visitors spend an average of $1277 per visit, resulting in $2.7 billion annually in visitor spending.
  • River-reliant businesses are responsible for 38,554 jobs every year. That means $273 million in annual federal tax revenue and $234 million in annual state and local tax revenue.

Not to mention the existence value…

For the uninitiated, the existence value refers to the value given to an environmental feature for simply existing, even if it’s never personally utilized. In WNC, 72.4% of surveyed residents and 26.3% of businesses said “they were willing to pay to improve the river’s water quality.” Using these statistics, researchers calculated the river’s existence value at an additional $2.4 billion.

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