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National Parks Generate Billions In Economic Activity


How far the national parks have come, from being described in the 19th century as unproductive wastelands in order to gain congressional approval to now being described as economic engines that are behind nearly $27 billion in business.

Within hours Monday of releasing a report on the value of parks to their surrounding communities in 2012 -- "... our national parks help propel our nation’s economy, drawing hundreds of millions of visitors every year who are the lifeblood of the hotels, restaurants, outfitters, and other local businesses that depend on a vibrant and reliable tourism and outdoor recreation industry supported by our public lands," pointed out Interior Secretary Sally Jewell -- the Internet was flush with links to news stories from across the nation regurgitating the report's findings.

Individual parks also sent out releases to proclaim the economic engines they were:

Tourism to Shenandoah National Park creates $76 million in Economic Benefit

Tourism to Olympic National Park Creates $220 Million in Economic Benefit; Report shows visitor spending supports 2,700 jobs in local economy

James A. Garfield National Historic Site Creates $1.1 Million in Local Economic Benefit

Glacier Creates $172 Million In Economic Benefit

Grand Teton National Park & John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway Generate Nearly $492 Million in Economic Benefit through Global Tourism

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park Creates $113,376,400 in Local Economic Benefit

In total, the National Park System in 2012 was behind $26.75 billion in economic activity, Secretary Jewel and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said during a joint telephone conference call with reporters. Accompanying that sum were more than 220,000 jobs, they added. (In a change from previous economic reports, the Park Service in the 2012 analysis expanded the economic footprint to include communities within 60 miles of a park.)

To further highlight the value of the parks, the two pointed to the shutdown last October of most national parks that resulted from a congressional impasse on the federal budget.

"Overall, the16-day shutdown resulted in 7.88 million fewer national park visitors in October 2013 compared to a three-year average (October 2010-12), and an estimated loss of $414 million in visitor spending in gateway and local communities across the country when comparing October 2013 to a three-year average (October 2010-12)," an Interior Department release said.

(You can find the economic impact report here, and a report on the effects of the 2013 shutdown in October here.)

The greatest individual economic engine in the park system in 2012 was the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway, which was said to generate $902.5 million. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, a 45-acre island in the Saint Croix River on the Maine-Canadian border that interprets the "attempted French settlement of 1604, which led to the founding of New France," had no economic impact.


I think the word "creates" is probably a misnomer here. It implies that if these parks didn't exist, people would not spend that money. The reality is that people vacation and recreate. If these parks weren't there, much of this money would be spent elsewhere.

No doubt, these parks are additive to their local communities but they are far less additive to the overall economy than these promotional reports suggest.

BTW - it doesn't make the parks any less valuable but I don't think one should mislead the public to promote their cause.

Thanks for sharing the numbers. To add to the list, I just received an email that National Park of American Samoa brought in $582,600 last year. Happy to say I contributed to that number. Most of the people we ran into in the park were foreigners, and if it weren't for the national park, they would have--to the person--bypassed AmSam completely and moved on to another Pacific island, spending their money in another country. (I know that the pile of money I spent getting there would have otherwise sat in my bank account.) I meet quite a few foreigners in the parks who come to America solely for the parks. This influx of money, along with the domestic economic ACTIVITY generated by the parks, is a nice sign.

Justin points out an important factor that some who rank dollars as more important than parks miss. Go to virtually any U.S. national park and listen to the cacophony of languages. Those visitors from other nations probably wouldn't be here if it were not for national parks. Although their pockets may normally be filled with Yen, or Marks, or Schillings or whatever, when they convert their own script into dollars it's really far more additive not only to the local economy, but the economy of the U.S. as well.

Will they continue to come to visit if we allow our parks to become messed up by uncontrolled pursuit of wealth?

The study must be wrong. In October 2012 we toured New England and made the detour to St. Croix Island NHS while being on the way from Acadia NP to Fundy NP. Certainly we spent some money in the Calais region, at least some gas fuel! ;)

Those visitors from other nations probably wouldn't be here if it were not for national parks.


To be more specific to the question, most of those foreign visitors may well be in the US, but would not be in Cody or Orick or Skagway were it not for the national parks.And it is to those local communities the report is speaking.


I'm with ec on this PR offensive being misleading. The NPS press releases imply all that economic benefit is due to the NPS 'brand', but some, perhaps many, people would still visit most sites regardless of the managing agency. A truer accounting would also discount the roughly $4B 'overhead' annual cost of NPS management from their $27B 'activity' figure.


I strongly agree with Lee's last sentence, but it appears to me that the top-heavy NPS management has also "become messed up by uncontrolled pursuit of... " MORE, if not exactly wealth.

Rick has it right. Are you trying to claim, ec, that thousands upon thousands of Germans, French, Japanese, Korean, Dutch and British people would travel to the southwest corner of Utah or to Moab or to Loa or Bicknell if Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and those other "worthless" places were not there?

Your claim is, at best, undoubtably doubtful.

I have to agree with part of Tahoma's posting. But I still wonder how much of what he cites is due to Congressional response to political interest groups that stand to benefit from NPS areas?

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