The economic benefits for communities located near national parks and other recreation and scenic hot spots are significant—as long as access to those areas is preserved.
The National Park Service concludes that, nationwide, the country’s parks contributed more than $14.7 billion to gateway communities in 2012.
The report, “2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States and the Nation,” reviewed the National Park Service’s 141 units across the country and analyzed the effects of tourism.
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber, and Lynne Koontz for the Park Service.
Across the country, the report showed $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, with a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.
Nationally, spending by visitors in gateway communities near national parks included 30 percent on hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast outlets; 20 percent in restaurants and bars; 12 percent on gas and oil; 10 percent for admission and fees; 10 percent on souvenirs and other expenses; 7 percent on local transportation and 2 percent on camping fees.
Across the country, the National Park System units cover a total of more than 84 million acres.
The National Park Service report shows 2.2 million people visited Michigan’s four national park units in 2012, spending a total of $181.7 million in the towns nearby, which helped support a total of 3,221 jobs in those local areas.
The report revealed that visitors spent more than $4.6 million while visiting two national parks in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument had 83,788 visitors and supported 65 jobs.
Aztec Ruins had nearly 45,000 visitors who spent about $2.4 million, while Chaco Culture had about 39,000 visitors who spent about $2.25 million in 2012, according to the report.
Also in the Four Corners area, Mesa Verde National Park had about 488,000 total visitors who spent $46.7 million. The spending helped support 645 jobs in the area.
In California, Death Valley National Park hosted nearly 1 million visitors, Yosemite National Park saw more than 3 million visitors and Devil’s Postpile National Monument hosted 90,000 visitors in 2012.
The Death Valley report states that those visitors spent an estimated $78 million, supporting 929 jobs in communities surrounding the park, such as Lone Pine, Olancha, Shoshone, and Tecopa.
The Park Service has been measuring and reporting visitor spending and economic effects for the past 24 years.
A separate report indicates that the 2013 numbers tell a different story due in part to the 16-day government shutdown in October.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is the 10th-most visited property in the National Park Service, according to NPS 2013 visitation figures for America’s national parks.
Visitation is down in the recreation area, from 4.9 million in 2012 to 4.8 million in 2013.
The exact numbers — 4,970,802 in 2012 and 4,843,350 in 2013 — reflect a decrease of 127,452 visitors.
Nationally, the number of recreational visits to national parks in 2013 was 273 million, which was 9.1 million less than 2012 visitations.
“The shutdown reduced our visitation for the year by more than 5 million visitors who were turned away during those two weeks. These closures had a real impact on local businesses and communities that rely on the national parks as important drivers for their local economies,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said.
Top 10 Most Visited Places in the National Park System
Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 14,289,121
Blue Ridge Parkway: 12,877,368
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695
George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7,360,392
Lincoln Memorial: 6,546,518
Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 6,344,714
Gateway National Recreation Area: 6,191,246
Natchez Trace Parkway: 6,012,740
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 4,941,367
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4,843,350
Top 10 Most Visited National Parks
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695
Grand Canyon National Park: 4,564,840
Yosemite National Park: 3,691,191
Yellowstone National Park: 3,188,030
Olympic National Park: 3,085,340
Rocky Mountain National Park: 2,991,141
Zion National Park: 2,807,387
Grand Teton National Park: 2,688,794
Acadia National Park: 2,254,922
Glacier National Park: 2,190,374
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.