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Policy & Government

Find out how much the National Parks bring to your community; plus impact of 2013 shutdown

Report (search by park) shows total of 282 million visits produced $14.7 billion in visitor spending in 2012, supporting 243,000 jobs.

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The National Park System received more than 282 million visits in 2012, producing $14.7 billion in visitor spending and supporting 243,000 jobs in its surrounding communities, government officials announced Monday.

Officials also released figures estimating the effects of the Oct. 1-16, 2013 government shutdown at loss of 7.88 million visits and $414 million less in visitor spending. The full 2013 report will be available about a year from now.

The annual survey and extra report (covering 401 National Parks, Recreation Areas, Monuments and Memorials) reinforce the large impact of the National Park System on the local and national level. In total, officials estimate that NPS produced $26.8 billion in economic output for the nation in 2012.

“The lodging sector saw the highest direct contributions with more than 40,000 jobs and $4.5 billion in output directly contributed to local gateway economies nationally,” officials said. That doesn’t include an additional $358.9 million in output from camping fees. “The sector with the next greatest direct contributions was restaurants and bars, with 51 thousand jobs and $3 billion in output … with an additional $1.1 billion in output from purchasing food at grocery and convenience stores.”

Economic output to other recreation activities (including tours and outdoor services) came to $1.5 billion in 2012 and retail sales benefited $411 million in output.

The NPS changed its measuring mechanics for 2012 to better reflect visitor spending and economic multiplier effects at each individual park, versus the previous 14 years of calculations, which imposed more broad multipliers at all the parks. This makes most comparisons to those previous years imprudent, officials said, although they noted that NPS visit numbers did increase by 1.4 percent over 2011.

Taking a look at some of the more interesting figures in the survey, out of the total visits to the NPS, 30 percent are multi-day visitors staying outside the park in a motel, hotel or bed and breakfast, while 6 percent of multi-day visits camp outside the park, 3 percent camp inside the park, and 1 percent stay overnight in an NPS lodge. Twenty-four percent of visits involve non-locals making a day trip, while 19 percent of day visits are from locals.

Which National Park got the most visits in 2012 (excluding recreation areas, monuments and memorials)? No. 9 might surprise you.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park 9.7 million
2. Grand Canyon National Park 4.4 million
3. Yosemite National Park 3.9 million
4. Yellowstone National Park 3.4 million
5. Rocky Mountain National Park 3.2 million
6. Zion National Park 3 million
7. Olympic National Park 2.8 million
8. Grand Teton National Park 2.5 million
9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park 2.3 million
10. Glacier National Park 2.2 million

Including all NPS recreation areas, The Blue Ridge Parkway (15.2 million) and the Golden Gate Bridge (14.5 million) received the most visits in 2012.

Looking ahead to 2013 and the impact of the 16-day national government shutdown, officials said communities in California, Arizona, North Carolina and Wyoming will see the largest negative impacts from the decline in visitor spending.

States that spent their own money to reopen the National Parks early did benefit from the investment, officials said. For example, Utah, which had its major parks and recreation areas open on its own for six days, spent about $1 million do so, generating 153,400 visits and $9.9 million in visitor spending.

“Overall each dollar funded by the states (Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Arizona, New York and Tennessee) was estimated to have generated an additional $10 in visitor spending,” officials said.

U.S. Geological Survey economists conducted the reports for the NPS and independent professionals formally peer-reviewed them, officials said.

Click here for 2012 NPS annual report, released on March 3, 2014.

Click here for the extra 2013 government shutdown impact report.

–David Clucas