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Washington, DC — Recreational visits to national parks are an economic engine for creating jobs and generating income for host communities, according to an internal National Park Service study released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The study estimates that national parks generate nearly $5 of economic benefits for every tax dollar invested in park budgets.

The study found that the more than 272 million recreational visits to national parks during the 2005 fiscal year stimulated more than $10.3 billion in benefits to local economies and supported more than 236,000 jobs, including Park Service staff. According to the study—

  • The biggest economic beneficiary of national park visitation is California, with nearly $1.2 billion in benefits supporting nearly 27,000 jobs, followed by the District of Columbia and Tennessee;
  • The Southeast enjoys more positive economic impact than any other region, followed closely by the Rocky Mountain region and the Pacific West; and
  • Not surprisingly, the national park system’s so-called “crown jewels” were the biggest job and income creators, led by Grand Canyon and followed by Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks. Heading the next tier of economic generators was the Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee followed by the Lake Mead Recreational Area in Nevada.

The study was overseen by Jim Gramann, Ph.D., the agency’s Chief Social Scientist, and distributed internally last week to all National Park Service (NPS) regional directors with instructions to “forward this information to all superintendents, regional and park PIOs [public information officers], and other staff members to whom it would be useful.”

“If national parks are indeed an economic engine, that engine is way overdue for a tune-up,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting rising park maintenance backlogs and staff shortages, especially in law enforcement. “To some extent, our national parks are becoming victims of their own success, drawing more development and traffic which risks turning the ‘crown jewels’ into smog bowls.”

The overall future for the park system is uncertain. Recreational visits to all national parks have fallen since 2000 – a drop-off attributed to a variety of factors, including foreign tourists deterred by U.S. security measures, rising entrance fees and less camping by a younger generation preoccupied with an array of electronic diversions. In addition, there is currently a struggle over increasing commercial presence, as well as motorized recreation, in national parks, embodied, in part by the year-long effort to rewrite NPS Management Policies.

“The National Park Service is a $2.3 billion-a-year operation adrift without a plan or a leader,” Ruch added, pointing to the recent abrupt resignation of NPS Director Fran Mainella and the vacancy in the position above her, the Assistant Interior Secretary for Fish, Wildlife & Parks, since this January, with no successor named for either slot.


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