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National Parks' Record Visitation Highlights Outdoor Economy

Posted by Anna Roth at Apr 19, 2017 04:30 PM |

National Parks visitation broke records last year. A new report out today reveals how those visits translated into jobs and millions for the trail towns surrounding Washington's national parks.

It's National Park Week, when parks all across the nation offer opportunities to get to know the stunning landscapes and historically important icons they protect. People have been enjoying the national parks in increasing numbers recently, and the dollars they spend on these visits are vital to the communities nearby.

Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park
Shi Shi Beach is a popular destination in Olympic National Park. Photo by Richard Rhee

Record visitation to National Parks in 2016

Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced that 2016's record visitation of 331 million visitors at America’s 417 National Park Service sites contributed $34.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016, a $2.9 billion increase from 2015.

Closer to home, the outdoor industry has had an immense impact on Washington's economy. In 2016, 8.5 million park visitors spent an estimated $526.2 million in local gateway regions while visiting Park Service lands in Washington. These expenditures supported a total of 7.1 thousand jobs, $244.1 million in labor income, $433.2 million in value added, and $708 million in economic output in the Washington economy.

Gateway communities benefited especially, with hotels and restaurants enjoying 40% of the value added by visitors to the state. That's nearly $174 million drawn to Washington because of our compelling outdoor recreation opportunities.

In a statement, Zinke said, “National Parks are America’s treasure which provide magnificent outdoor recreation opportunities and serve as economic engines for local communities. This report is a testament to the tangible economic benefits our parks bring to communities across the nation. Visitation numbers continue to rise because people want to experience these majestic public lands.”

National Parks Report
Explore the report on the economy in Washington and around the country. Source: NPS

More Visitation Means Need for More Investment

The more people who use national parks, the more we need investment in the infrastructure, from the backlog of trail maintenance, to maintenance of historic structures. WTA's executive director, Jill Simmons, recently flew to Washington D.C. to testify to the importance of investment in public lands. 

In his statement, Zinke reiterated this, saying, “With continued record visitation it’s time to start thinking about accessibility and infrastructure. In the coming years, we will look at ways to make innovative investments in our parks to enhance visitor experiences and improve our aging infrastructure. To ensure visitors continue to have great experiences, we will remain focused on increasing access and addressing the maintenance backlog to ensure we are on the right track for generations to come.”

And investment is what it will take. National Parks have an estimated $11.9 billion infrastructure repair backlog. Of that, trail infrastructure needs like crucial footbridges over rivers and fixing trail-closing washouts, are estimated at $482 million.

The report was prepared by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. It includes information by park and by state on visitor spending, the number of jobs supported by visitor spending and other statistics.