ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The number of people visiting Missouri's 83 state parks has steadily declined since 1999, and Gov. Jay Nixon is reaching out to tourism and business leaders around the state to try to boost attendance.
Nixon spoke to tourism leaders in Branson on Wednesday and to the Regional Business Council in St. Louis on Thursday, outlining for them his plan to turn around sagging state park attendance.
"Boosting attendance at our state parks will help preserve a vital part of our Missouri heritage," Nixon told the St. Louis business group. "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. By last year, attendance had dropped nearly 19 percent, to 14.9 million.
The economy may be partly to blame, but Nixon said the state needs to do better at marketing the parks, especially on the Internet.
"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," Nixon said.
Last month, Nixon appointed Bill Bryan deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. In that role, he will also direct the department's Division of State Parks. Bryan had been the state's chief information officer, and Nixon said he is confident Bryan will develop better use of the Web to promote the parks.
The Department of Natural Resources declined a request to interview Bryan.
The governor plans to take part in public information campaigns to boost attendance at the parks, and will promote park usage by large groups and conferences, rather than just families and individuals, his spokesman Scott Holste said.
Holste said one factor that has hurt overall state park attendance was the closure of the popular Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park in southeast Missouri after AmerenUE's Taum Sauk reservoir was breached in December 2005. The breach sent millions of gallons of water spilling into the park.
Sections of the park, a popular destination for St. Louis-area families, have reopened over the past few years.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)