Report: National Parks Serve as Powerful Economic Engines

By Beacon Staff

This week the Beacon detailed the possible ramifications of further budget cuts to national parks.

Further information has emerged recently regarding the economic impact that national parks have on the economy.

More than four million national park visitors in Montana in 2011 spent $285 million and supported 4,561 jobs in the state, according to a new National Park Service report.

“The national parks of Montana are exceptional places – from the richly scenic wilds of Glacier to the profoundly historic and emblematic Little Bighorn Battlefield. The attraction of these six natural and cultural crown jewels as havens for relaxation, exercise and learning about our national story is undeniable,” said John Wessels, regional director for the Park Service’s eight-state Intermountain Region, which includes Montana.

“Montana’s millions of park visitors, and the people of the state who live and work in communities near its national parks, are investors in these treasures of our heritage,” Wessels said.

Montana’s national parks include Glacier National Park; Yellowstone National Park; Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument; Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site; Big Hole National Battlefield, and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. In 2011, these parks welcomed a combined 4,061,967 visitors.

Nationwide, visitors to the 398 units of the NPS had a combined $30 billion economic benefit that supported 252,000 jobs.

The statistics for 2011 are based on the spending of nearly 279 million national park visitors; more than one third of that total spending, or $13 billion, went directly into communities within 60 miles of a park. The numbers are on par with previous years.

According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food, and beverage service (63 percent). Other spending categories include recreation and entertainment (17 percent), other retail (11 percent), transportation and fuel (7 percent) and wholesale and manufacturing (2 percent).

“Places like the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty take our breath away and inspire us with their beauty and history, but our national parks also serve as anchors for our nation’s economy,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “People who visit parks need transportation, places to stay, and meals to eat – all of which support businesses and provide jobs in local communities.”

Salazar and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis spoke earlier this week about the possible effects of mandatory budget cuts under sequestration. The cuts would result in reduced hours of operation for visitor centers, shorter seasons, and possibly closing campgrounds, hiking trails, and other recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, staff and resources.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by Yue Cui, Ed Mahoney, and Teresa Herbowicz of Michigan State University for the National Park Service. The report shows $13 billion of direct spending by 279 million national park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a park. This spending supported 252,000 jobs, most of which also are in communities near national parks. Park visitor spending had a combined $30 billion impact on the U.S. economy as a whole.

The reduced services will have a direct impact on the local communities and businesses that depend on the income generated from visitors to America’s public lands, according to the NPS.

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