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Report confirms National Parks are big business

March 10, 2014

Young Ty Lawrence of Mammoth Lakes captures an image of the Eureka Sand Dunes in Death Valley with his dad’s camera. National Park visitors like the Lawrences contributed billions of dollars to gateway communities in 2012. Photo by Justin Lawrence

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.
A recent report released by the National Park Service concludes that, nationwide, the country’s parks have contributed more than $14.7 billion to gateway communities in 2012. A separate report suggests that 2013’s numbers will tell a different story due to the 16-day government shutdown in October.
In a series of press releases issued Monday, March 3, the National Park Service announced that 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.
In a similar press release, the NPS said the visitors to Devils Postpile National Monument above Mammoth Lakes spent $5.128 million in communities near the park, supporting 65 jobs in the area.
The spending from Yosemite National Park’s 3 million-plus visitors in surrounding communities reached more than $378.7 million in 2012 and supported 5,162 jobs in the local economy.
The statistics provided by the NPS are the result of a peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane and Christopher Huber, and Lynne Koontz of the NPS.
In the report, the group said most visitor spending – 86 percent – supports jobs in restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores (39 percent), hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts (27 percent) and other amusement and recreation (20 percent).
“Death Valley National Park is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Superintendent Kathy Billings. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides and to use the park as a way to introduce our visitors to this part of the country and all that it offers.” Billings went on to say that National Park tourism is a significant driver in the economy, “returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service – and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.”
While the 2012 report is good news for local gateway communities like Olancha, Lone Pine, Tecopa, Shoshone, Lee Vining, Crowley Lake, Tom’s Place and Mammoth Lakes, the NPS recognizes that the 16-day government shutdown last October will likely impact numbers for the 2013 spending analysis.
A report on the financial impacts of the shutdown compiled by the Department of the Interior and NPS states that the government shutdown “had significant effects on National Park Service visitation levels for the month (of October 2013) and the resulting spending effects in gateway communities across the country.”
The report was based on the 2012 visitor spending effects model and the NPS Visitor Use Statistics Office were used to provide an early glimpse into the effects on NPS recreation visitation and spending in the local gateway communities during the month of the shutdown.
Spending effects resulting from the shutdown include a 7.88 million decline in park visitation nationwide, “resulting in a loss of $414 million NPS visitor spending within gateway communities across the country.”
The report also states that gateway communities near 45 parks experienced a loss of more than $2 million in NPS related spending.
The shutdown report shows that Yosemite National Park averages about 346,000 visitors each October, generating an average of $34.6 million. In the wake of the shutdown, the park saw almost 67,000 less visitors (a 19 percent drop) for the month with a 6.7 percent drop in visitor spending.
But the shutdown report isn’t all bad news, at least not for Death Valley National Park, which made up for the decline in visitation during the shutdown later in the month.
“While most parks reported a decline in visitation during October 2013, 23 parks reported an increase in visitation.,” the report states, adding that Death Valley is one of seven parks that experienced an increase of more than $500,000 in NPS-related visitor spending in October 2013 as compared to the three-year October average.
Death Valley Public Information Officer Cheryl Chipman said that the spending analysis during the shutdown may reflect the fact that some who had plans to visit national parks may have opted to spend time in the Owens Valley or other gateway communities during the shutdown.
The shutdown report did not provide statistics for Devils Postpile.
To see the full reports, visit

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