Perhaps President Obama, in his effort to get Congress to support his jobs bill, should have mentioned the economic might of investing in national parks. While here at the Traveler we believe you don't need to stress economics when discussing the value of parks, their ability to generate jobs can't be ignored.
Take, for instance, Colonial National Historical Park, Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Yorktown Battlefield in Virginia. According to a report from the National Parks Conservation Association, these destinations provide jobs, open space, and recreational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
“Tourism is an $18 billion industry in Virginia,” said Pam Goddard, NPCA’s Chesapeake and Virginia program manager. “Colonial National Historical Park contributes to the thriving industry by attracting visitors to experience the park’s historic sites such as the Yorktown battlefield and the Jamestown glassblowing studio, spending money and supporting the local economy.”
The report, Making Connections: Colonial National Historical Park Enhances Economic Vitality in Virginia’s Historic Triangle, finds that the historical park alone attracted 363,000 visitors last year who stopped at a park visitor center or participated in programs. (Total reported visitation in 2010 was 3.4 million, including trips on the Colonial Parkway.) Those visitors spent an estimated $327 million in the Historic Triangle region, it points out. Notably, this spending supported 1,184 local private-sector jobs while the National Park Service directly employed 81 staff members at the park.
“The national park and historic sites in the Historic Triangle are among the top 25 destinations for visitors to the Commonwealth,” said Ms. Goddard. “Citizens retreat to these special places to see American history come to life and to enjoy the great outdoor space and recreational opportunities.”
Making Connections also highlights the positive impact a new national park at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, would have on the Historic Triangle and the local economy. Drawing nearly 23 million recreational visitors last year, Virginia’s national parks foster nearly $500 million in non-local visitor spending annually, with value-added economic benefits beyond that.
“There is a growing demand for recreational opportunities throughout the state for hiking, birding, boating and other outdoor activities,” said Ms. Goddard. “The Old Point Comfort Peninsula offers public access to over two miles of beautiful Chesapeake Bay shoreline, camping facilities and a marina. Fort Monroe’s rich history and beaches will create a world-class destination and infuse tourist dollars into the regional economy.”
Virginia tourism is one of the few industries that continue to grow in the current economic climate. Four out of ten jobs in the area are in tourism-related businesses, according to NPCA figures.
In light of a national study commissioned by NPCA in 2006 that found that every federal dollar invested in national parks generates at least four dollars of economic value to the public, the park advocacy group says the addition of a park at Fort Monroe will complement Virginia’s Historic Triangle and boost local economies.
The National Park Service predicts a dramatic increase in Civil War park visitation during the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The Mid-Atlantic region faces a remarkable opportunity to expand upon its tourism industry and recreational amenities in ways that are compatible with the Historic Triangle’s character, NPCA believes. The addition of Fort Monroe to the National Park System would benefit area residents, as well as the heritage travelers that visit the region, it adds.