As the National Park Service moves closer to its second century, one of the key indicators of how parks are doing, and how the NPS is fulfilling its mission, is the economic impact that national parks have on America’s economy. According to a report compiled by Michigan State University, every dollar spent by the National Park Service, through Congressional appropriations, results in a $10 benefit to the national economy.
Using data gathered from parks and public data, economists at Michigan State examined the impacts visitor spending has on the local economy in terms of sales, income, and jobs in a report published yesterday called Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation, 2011. The information contained in this report will be used for planning, concessions management, budget justifications, policy analysis, and marketing.
According to the report, the National Park System received 278.9 million recreation visits in 2011, while park visitors spent $12.95 billion in local gateway regions (defined as within roughly 60 miles of a park). In total, park visitor spending supported 252,000 (mostly) local jobs.
The four local economic sectors most directly affected by visitor spending are lodging, restaurants, retail trade, and recreation and entertainment. Spending from these sources supported 45,200 jobs in restaurants and bars, 34,100 jobs in lodging sectors, 15,500 jobs in the retail and wholesale trade, and 20,000 jobs in recreation and entertainment.
Visitors staying overnight outside the park (in motels, hotels, cabins, and bed & breakfasts) accounted for 54.9% of the total spending. About half (48%) of the spending was for lodging and meals, 21.4% for gas and local transportation, 9.7% for recreation and entertainment, 8.1% for groceries, and 12.7% for other retail purchases.
As a result of the Great Smoky Mountains being the most visited national park in the country, the park also had the greatest impact on the local economy when compared to any other park in the system. In 2011 visitors to the Smokies spent roughly $818,886,000 in the surrounding communities. This spending supported 11,418 jobs. As a comparison, visitors along the Blue Ridge Parkway spent roughly $340,085,000, which supported 4,379 jobs.
You can view the entire NPS report by clicking here.
Hiking in the Smokies