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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Biggest Spenders In National Park System


Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park leave quite a bit behind when they head home after visiting the park. In fact, a study shows that in 2010 the park's 9 million or so visitors spent more than $818 million in gateway communities surrounding the national park.

That total is more than any other unit of the National Park System could match, according to the study done for the National Park Service. The study also estimates that 11,367 local jobs were supported by park visitor spending.

Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll, 2010 was compiled by Dr. Daniel Stynes of the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies at Michigan State University.  According to this study, the National Park Service received 281 million recreational visits in 2010 and park visitors spent $12.13 billion in local gateway regions.

The study provides a park-by-park and state-by-state breakdowns of each park unit’s visitation, visitor spending, and local jobs supported at NPS units from Alaska to the Virgin Islands. 

The top Park Service units in terms of spending generated were Great Smoky Mountains National Park with $818 million; Grand Canyon National Park at $415 million; Yosemite National Park with $354 million, Yellowstone National Park at $334 million, and the Blue Ridge Parkway with $299 million.

“This study clearly demonstrates the economic benefits that communities located near national parks receive by being collocated with these unique national, historic and cultural sites," said Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of Great Smoky.

The spending estimates at each park were derived from a money generation model that begins with a park’s visitation, party size, length of stay, and proportion of local vs. non-local visitors.  Those statistics are combined with locally-indexed cost estimates for restaurants, lodging, amusements, locally-purchased fuel and transportation, and retail spending.

You can find the fully study attached below.


I hope this does not encourage encroachment.  Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are communities butted against the GSMNP, not separated by some buffer zone natural or otherwise.  While these communities may be home to some, they seemed to me just tourist traps to pass through to get to the real wealth of the excursion, a National Park essentially untouched and unmarred by human intervention.  Economic gain for a nearby community at the cost of losing the natural, preserved land of a Park is not a good deal.
Fortunately, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge seem to be the exception rather than the rule.  I have visited most of the big west parks over the past few years.  They have few analogs to GSMNP when it comes to encroachment.  Perhaps Jackson, WY comes closest but it pales in comparison to the Vegas-like neon of PF.
I breath easier and feel settled inside the Parks.  I am in no hurry to leave.  The grand lodges and minimal concessions within are sufficient to maintain the grandure of the place without ruining the identity of the Park.  Old Faithful Lodge is a perfect example.  Great Meadow Lodge in GSMNP is another.  But as soon as I leave the Park, the romance is gone.  I hated that instant transition from glory to ghastly.

my family and i have visited many of the national parks, camping.  in 1994 dad suffered a massive stroke, and required 24/7 care, provided by mom and me.  we could no longer camp.  so we began staying at a motel, visiting the Smokies because it was only a good day's drive from home.  we ate out, usually in Pigeon Forge.  There are a few places where we spent money outside of the park, namely Arrowcraft in Gatlinburg, and one or two places on the artists loop road outside Gatlinburg.  we also spend money in the park visitors' centers.  while i do not at all like the tacky nature of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, some of the restaurants are necessary.  however, we spend a great deal of time in the park.  dad died in 2007 -- he had been an artist and painted the landscapes in the park for decades.  after his stroke, our time in the park was spent in the car because of disabilities of the 3 of us.

What is the true spending per visitor? I am curious if the total $ spent is only highest at Great Smokey N.P. because their visitation is probably triple Grand Canyon N.P.  What I am getting at is your title to the article could infers that each visitor spends most at GSNP or it could mean the total of visitors spend more there only because there were more visits. When I think of "Biggest Spenders", I think per person.

Can anyone venture a guess or have statistics indicating where the visitors happen to come by the dollars they spend in and around these National Parks?  

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