National Parks in Montana Create $403.4 Million in Economic Benefit

By Beacon Staff

Montana’s five national parks sites yielded more than $403 million in economic benefits in 2012, with more than 4.4 million visitors supporting 6,525 jobs statewide, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Glacier National Park alone drew approximately 2.2 million visitors who spent an estimated $172 million in communities near the park, supporting 2,754 jobs in the local area, the report found.

“We are honored and proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world to Glacier National Park,” Superintendent Jeff Mow said in a statement. “Glacier is a special place and many times visitors travel to Montana specifically to visit Glacier, and are introduced to the many other wonderful amenities that Montana, and Northwest Montana have to offer.”

The new report was announced by Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Parks Service Director Jonathan Jarvis during a teleconference with reporters Monday, along with a separate analysis of the economic impact of the October 2013 government shutdown.

The economic benefits of the 2012 report shone in contrast against the setbacks of the partisan gridlock that led to the 16-day government shutdown, from Oct. 1–16, which had significant effects on park visitation for the month and reduced spending in gateway communities across the country, Jewell said.

The shutdown cost a half-billion dollars in visitor spending nationwide, according to the report.

“Shutting down the parks during that time was a real challenge to gateway communities that depended on those park visitors,” she said. “Let’s hope we never have to go there again.”

According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent), hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast locations (27 percent), and other amusement and recreation (20 percent).

National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy – returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service.

“That’s a pretty strong return on an investment,” Jewell said.

If there was a silver lining in the government shutdown, it’s that it raised awareness among lawmakers and gateway communities.

On average, Glacier Park hosts between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors during the month of October, and approximately 2 million visitors per year. Following the closure, the National Park Service issued a press release showing that the government shutdown would result in economic losses of $76 million per day to local communities.

Nationwide, the shutdown furloughed more than 20,000 National Park Service employees. Approximately 3,000 employees remained on duty to ensure essential health, safety and security functions at parks and facilities, the agency reported. About 12,000 park concessions employees across the country were also affected.

While Jewell hopes to avoid another shutdown, she said budget woes would continue to be problematic for the National Park Service.

Park Service budgets have not kept on pace with inflation and rising costs, resulting in fewer visitor services and an $11 billion maintenance backlog, Jewell said.

“It is my job as Secretary of the Interior to make the case to the White House and on Capitol Hill of the importance of national parks and public lands, but it is also the job of citizens to express that importance to their leaders,” she said. “This economic report is a great way for us to quantify that and also to understand how we are doing with respect to visitors and how much they spend in our local communities.”

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