According to a recently-released National Park Service (NPS) study, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only the nation's most visited national park, it also tops the 397 national park units in visitor spending. The study estimates that in 2010 the Park's 9 million visitors spent over $818 million in the gateway communities surrounding the Park. The study also estimates that 11,367 local jobs were supported by Park visitor spending.
The study, "Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll, 2010", was conducted by Dr. Daniel Stynes of the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies at Michigan State University. According to Stynes' 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 five NPS units in terms of spending generated were:
1) Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN/NC) with $818 million
2) Grand Canyon (AZ) at $415 million
3) Yosemite (CA) with $354 million
4) Yellowstone (MT/WY/ID) at $334 million
5) Blue Ridge Parkway (VA/NC) with $299 million
Dale Ditmanson, Smokies Superintendent, said, "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."
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.
The entire study can be found here.