HARRISONBURG — Visitors to national parks contributed $40.1 billion to the U.S. economy, along with 329,000 jobs, in 2018, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

National park visitor spending increased by $2 billion and total output from the parks increased by $4.3 billion compared to 2017, according to the press release.

“National parks with their iconic natural, cultural and historic landscapes represent the heart and soul of America,” P. Daniel Smith, National Park Service deputy director, said in the release. “They are also a vital part of our nation’s economy, especially for park gateway communities where millions of visitors each year find a place to sleep and eat, hire outfitters and guides and make use of other local services that help drive a vibrant tourism and outdoor recreation industry.”

The annual report, called the 2018 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, concludes that more than 318 million visitors spent $20.2 billion within 60 miles of a park of the National Park Service.

More than 289,000 of the 329,000 jobs supported by the tourism exist in “gateway communities.”

Gateway communities are cities or towns located near tourist attractions.

The Blue Ridge Parkway brought in 14.6 million people who supported more than 15,900 jobs, with $1 billion spent.

“We have 419 national parks, so they’re scattered all over the country so they provide a lot of economic value to the people around them, their neighboring communities,” said Sally Hurlbert, the management specialist for Shenandoah National Park.

National parks serve as a “magnet” and attract people from all over the world, she said.

In 2018, Shenandoah National Park had 1.26 million visitors who spent $86.9 million in the communities around the park, Hurlbert said.

From gas to groceries for picnics, these tourism dollars support 1,077 jobs directly related to the park, not including the 250-person park service staff, she said.

The economic output of the park, a different metric than park visitor spending, is approximately $116 million. The economic output includes not just the money made from the vendors’ sales, but also includes the price they pay local producers for goods to sell to park visitors, Hurlbert said.

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, on the other hand, are part of the U.S. Forest Service under the USDA, instead of the Department of the Interior.

However, the forests also support local jobs and paychecks. In 2014, the forests supported 1,480 jobs and approximately $55.1 million in annual labor income for wage earners and business sole proprietors, according to the George Washington-Jefferson National Forests Jobs and Income Contributions for 2014 report.

Parks also contribute to other parts of communities — not just the economies, Hurlbert said.

The recreational, health and spiritual benefits bring intangible positives to locals as well, she said.

“We’re really invested in our gateway communities — we want so much to see them thrive,” Hulbert said.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanMunroDNR

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