Park visitor spending down but still worth $72.4 million

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 1.14 million visitors to Shenandoah National Park in 2013 spent $72.4 million in communities near the park, which supported 889 jobs in the local area.

The numbers are down from the park’s 2012 tally — 1.2 million visitors who spent $76 million — and the park’s prepared release attributes this primarily to the 16-day federal government shutdown in October 2013.

“Shenandoah National Park is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world,” said superintendent Jim Northup. “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.”

“National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy — returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service — and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well,” Northup continued. “We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.”

“The importance of Shenandoah National Park to the surrounding counties cannot be overstated,” said Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce president John Robbins. “Tourism is critical to the economies of all the gateway communities, and Shenandoah National Park is without doubt among the most important tourism attractions we have.”

“Whenever the park is closed, due to icy conditions on Skyline Drive or government saber-rattling, we see immediate, serious economic losses,” Robbins added. “Visitor spending supports our local restaurants, shops, lodging properties and other businesses. Losing visitors has a drastic impact on the surrounding communities.”

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.6 billion of direct spending by 273.6 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported more than 237,000 jobs nationally, with more than 197,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.5 billion.

According to the 2013 economic analysis, most visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent), followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent) and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent).

The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

To download the report, which includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state, visit nature.nps.gov/socialscience/economics.cfm. To learn more about national parks in Virginia, visit nps.gov/virginia.

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