National Parks Bring Economic Benefits To Nearby Communities

(3BL/JustMeans) “National parks are the best idea we ever had,” said Wallace Stegner, the writer and environmentalist, in 1983. The National Park Service, created in 1916, manages 401 sites on 84 million acres across the U.S. More than just beautiful places, national parks also bring economic benefits. According to a report by the NPS, in 2012 they brought $1.5 billion worth of economic benefits. In 2012, NPS sites had over 282 million recreation visits, an increase of 3.9 million over 2011, who spent $14.7 in local gateway communities (within 60 miles of a park). The money the visitors spent contributed 243,000 jobs and $9.3 billion in labor income. 
Certain sectors benefited more than others, and the lodging sector benefited the most with over 40,000 jobs and $4.5 billion in spending. The restaurants and bars also benefited considerably with 51,000 jobs and $3 billion in spending. NPS visitors spent $1.1 billion buying food at grocery and convenience stores, and $358.9 million on camping fees. President Obama’s budget request for 2015 includes $2.6 billion for the NPS, which should bring a good return of investment considering that national park tourism returns $10 for every $1 invested in the NPS.
A breakdown of how some gateway communities benefited from NPS visitors in 2012 shows how economically important national parks are to those communities:
  • 489,906 visitors to the three Flagstaff, Arizona area national monuments (Sunset Crater Volcano, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki) spent $26,362,000 in nearby communities which supported 337 jobs in those communities
  • 483,334 visitors to Fire Island National Seashore in the state of New York spent over $19 million in nearby communities which supported 206 jobs
  • 49.5 million visitors to national parks in the greater Washington, D.C. area spent $928.6 million in nearby communities which supported over 12,000 jobs
  • 1.7 million visitors to the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in the state of Washington spent over $71 million in nearby communities which supported 899 jobs
  • 12,073,658 visitors to national parks around New York Harbor spent $394,399,300 million in nearby communities which supported 4,395 jobs
  • 802,503 visitors to the five Parks in Western Pennsylvania spent over $44 million in nearby communities which supported 677 jobs
The 16 day government shutdown in October 1-16, 2013 significantly affected NPS visitation and spending in nearby communities, another NPS report found. All 401 national park units were closed as a result. A decline of 7.88 million in overall October visitation caused a loss of $414 million in nearby communities, representing a 33.3 percent decline. The average October NPS visitation represents about eight percent of annual NPS visitation. From 2003 to 2012, overall NPS October visitation was relatively consistent. Gateway communities near 45 parks experienced over $2 million worth loss, and five states experienced a decline of over $20 million in October visitor spending. 
Every dollar of funding for the 14 parks opened with state funding before the end of the shutdown generated about $10 in visitor spending. Many national parks are in rural areas where gateway communities are very dependent on NPS visitors. The biggest loss in NPS visitor spending during the government shutdown occurred in the gateway communities in Tennessee and North Carolina near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A total of 847,616 visitors spent $65.8 million in the park in October 2013, down from the average of 1,176,720 visitors spending $91.4 million. 
Sources cited