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National Parks Generate Billions In Economic Activity

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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.

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