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National Park Service Promotes Parks As Economic Engines

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National parks generated $26.5 billion in economic activity last year. Zion National Park contributed $185.5 million/Deby Dixon photo of Zion Canyon

"This property is of no value to the Government."

"...if it cannot be occupied and cultivated, why should we make a public park of it? If it cannot be occupied by man, why protect it from occupation? I see no reason in that."

How times have changed.

Those two statements, the first from U.S. Sen. John Conness in 1864 as he urged the chamber to protect the Yosemite Valley, and the second from Sen. Cornelius Cole in 1872 in opposing legislation to create Yellowstone National Park, painted two of the more glorious units of today's National Park System as worthless tracts of land. Today they are viewed as part of a $26.5 billion economic engine that supports 240,000 jobs and countless businesses, large and small.

While Sen. Conness had to persuade his colleagues that Yosemite was worthless, and Sen. Cole believed Yellowstone to be worthless, today the National Park Service points to the economic worth of the parks.

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said last week in announcing the fiscal impacts of the park system. “While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.

"... The big picture of national parks and their importance to the economy is clear,” the director added. “Every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy because of visitor spending in gateway communities near the 401 parks of the National Park System.”

Lodging is the biggest business in the park system, generating $4.4 billion in economic activity last year, notes the report, 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation. Next in line, not too surprisingly, is dining and drinking (yes, bar drinking), which contributed $2.9 billion.

In 2013, NPS visitors spent a total of $14.6 billion in local gateway communities while visiting NPS lands. These expenditures directly supported over 143 thousand jobs, $4.2 billion in labor income, $6.9 billion in value added, and $11.2 billion in output in the national economy. The secondary effects of visitor spending supported an additional 94 thousand jobs, $5.0 billion in labor income, $8.8 billion in value added, and $15.3 billion in output in the national economy. Combined, NPS visitor spending supported a total of 238 thousand jobs, $9.2 billion in labor income, $15.6 billion in value added, and $26.5 billion in output in the national economy.

Which park system unit contributed the most to that total? The Blue Ridge Parkway, which generated nearly $1 billion ($999.3 million) in business last year, according to the report, followed closely by Great Smoky Mountains National Park with $943.2 million.

The report also noted that overall visitation to the parks was down in 2013, in large part due to the partial government shutdown in October, and due to ongoing impacts from Hurricane Sandy, which swept up the Eastern Seaboard in October 2012.

What was not part of the report, but which would be equally important in assessing the overall value of the National Park System, would be an analysis of the ecological worth of the parks. What value are the forests that act as air and water filters? How important to the nation are the flora and fauna protected by the parks? Let's measure the ecological, and economic, value of coastal wetlands and barrier islands at places such as Everglades National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Assateague Island National Seashore, that not only provide critical habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and fish, but also serve as storm buffers. 

If the Park Service feels it must tout the dollar-impact of the parks to generate Congressional and public support, it could similarly bolster that argument by defining the "natural capital" that resides in the park system.

"Nature has provided ecosystems and their benefits to us for free. However, perhaps because this capital has been provided freely to us, we humans have tended to view it as limitless, abundant, and always available for our use, exploitation, and conversion. The concept of an ecosystem as natural capital can help us analyze the economic behavior that has led to the overuse of so much ecological wealth. If we can understand this behavior better, then perhaps we can find ways to manage and enhance what is left of our natural endowment. -- Edward B. Barbier, Capitalizing on Nature, Ecosystems as Natural Assets.


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Don't believe SELC check the links provided. The spring shoulder season for some very specfic business might be off. I say might because some of the busness doing the complaining are avid ORV users themselves. I don't believe the fall season is at all. Actually I think the fall season is better because the  few that didn't come in the spring for Red Drum fishing postponed their trip to the fall.

Yes I can assure you I do live on HI, in Buxton, and have for probably longer than you have been vacationing here.

Maybe someone else can shed some light on economic analysis and what economic considerations are expected with respect to the Organic Act and NEPA when forming new rules. I'm under the impression that NEPA is the guiding instrument when management decisions are made concerning economic implications of new rules not the Organic Act. As far as CAHA was concerned the  government's economic analysis didn't find any problems. I don't see anything written in the EL for CAHA where local economic interest supersedes what was intended for the management of CAHA.

Beachdumb just  making a claim that the local economy has suffered because of new management is not good enough even if you have operate a business near the Park you need some proof to back it up with.

"With the exception of 2011, when Hurricane Irene cut off access to Hatteras Island for nearly two months, visitation to Cape Hatteras National Seashore has remained steady or increased for the past nine years, from a low of 2,125,005 (in 2006) and a high of 2,302,040 in 2012. In the first year of management under the Final Rule, Seashore visitation was the highest since 2003.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore visitation

2012 -  2,302,040

2011  -   1,960,711 *

2010 - 2,193,292

2009  - 2,282,543

2008 -  2,146,392

2007 -  2,237,378

2006  - 2,125,005

2005   -  2,260,628



*Hurricane Irene cut access for nearly two months
(See “Annual Park Visitation” Report for CAHA at

Dare County, NC, where the majority of the Seashore is located, reports that visitor occupancy tax receipts for each year under the court ordered ORV restrictions (2008 to 2012) exceeded receipts in 2007 and prior years, with 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 setting successive records for all-time high receipts. Tourism revenue for Hyde County, NC (the Ocracoke Island portion of Cape Hatteras National Seashore) has held steady or increased since 2005, to a record high $31.69 million in 2011. The chart below shows tourism revenue data for Hyde and Dare Counties, both before the court ordered ORV restrictions went into effect in 2008 and afterwards.



This analysis agrees with my own observations as a full time resident on Hatteras Island.  Right now unless something catastrophic occurs with Oregon Inlet bridge or highway 12  I predict  2014 will be an excellent year for business and tourism, even with the disruption of the 4th of July weekend by Hurricane Arthur.  It  doesn't appear to be any problems with visitation or the economy: lots of busy restaurants, grocery stores,  shops, no vacancy signs and larger than usual number of people in the NPS Oceanside Parking lots. I don't see the smoke the ORV orgs are telling everyone.

Nothing from the SELC is trustworthy. This group is very well known for cherry picking, half truths and misinterepreation. Ask any HI business how the shoulder season economy has been since 2003. Since you claim to live there, I'll wait for your answer.

Buxton, you know eco groups are the ones that were totally unwilling compromise. If those options were even remotely viable, the NPS would have implemented them on their own. The RegNeg was a failure and what we ended up with was totally derived from the NPS and the threat of law suits by the eco groups.

Closing miles of beach to ALL, new restrictions, fees/permits, and pedestrian closures in front of village houses can't possibly increase tourism.The economic engine of the CHNSRA lost a couple cylinders due to promise's of the NPS being broken. 

Does the EL, Organic Act and ESA take into any consideration the economic impacts to the surrounding areas? Didn't seem to in case of the CHNSRA.


Well at the regneg  the  (ORV orgs) shot down every other potential alternative, water taxis, shuttles, foot routes to name a few.  The only thing they were interested in is driving in their personal vehicle on the NP beach when and where they wanted to.  Whenever any pedestrian access was proposed they immediately referenced some study that said birders in cars were less intrusive than birders out of their cars  and if someone could walk there then they should be able to drive there, compromise over.

I can see no reason why management could not have been made for pedestrian paths that followed the tide line when appropriate,  temporary  parking areas and or alternative ORV routes that got fishermen much closer to the Point. Sportfishing at the Point is a significant historical tradition that deserved better, unfortunately  the ORV orgs took an  all or nothing approach. I want us to be able to fish the Point but the NPS has to protect the resource.  There  is no way getting around that and to accomplish it will be inconvenient.

Instead of continuing to hash CHNS let's talk about the responsibility of NPS to follow the ELs  of specific Parks,  the Organic Act and the ESA.  How are they suppose to address those issues? 

Buxton, you know that pedestrian access to the Point has been closed for 5 months now, this is not just about ORV access. Face it, it's not just the ORV orgs wanting access, state and local governments supporting all forms of access have been fighting the NPS on this problem as well. I think you give the ORV orgs too much credit, they have little influence as we have seen. 

"So we agree economic engine provided by CHNSRA has slowed or reversed by the actions of the OBX Group NPS over the past decade."

I don't know that to be the case at all.

The Parks policy of letting nature take it course is not the problem with access. The problem is politicians and local leaders won't acknowledge modern scientific theories of barrier island dynamics and the immediate implications they are having.

Birds and turtles have evolved to deal with adverse weather conditions (like a freak 100 MPH July hurricane this year) and bad nesting years  but have not evolved to deal with year after year of bad resource protection measures.

The fact that you can't meet at the Point and spring drum fish is because the only compromise(?)  the ORV/ fishing organizations will entertain is unfettered 24/7 ORV access to Cape Point. 

My family and I love Hatteras Island as much if not more than you do. It has sadden us that were unable to share the spring fishing with our newest and oldest family members as we had for decades. 

So we agree economic engine provided by CHNSRA has slowed or reversed by the actions of the OBX Group NPS over the past decade. 

Access to the island is becoming increasingly challenging by the NPS's new policy of let it be natural, further slowing the economic engine...

I see excessive resource closures as a ruse, given the fact that since the new plan was put in place birds and turtles have had a sharp decline, this year being the worst so far.

I am hoping that the new ESA reform act will allow some changes to restore some of the lost access and lost economic prosperity back to the island.

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