Top officials warn of negative impacts to gateway communities
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Visits to national parks in the U.S. climbed to 282 million in 2012, up 3.8 million from the previous year, top federal officials said this week, highlighting the role of parks tourism as an economic engine as they released the results of an annual analysis that details the financial contribution of parks to local communities.
According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food, and beverage service (63 percent) followed by recreation and entertainment (17 percent), other retail (11 percent), transportation and fuel (7 percent), and wholesale and manufacturing (2 percent).
But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and NPS director Jon Jarvis said that role is threatened by looming budget cuts that would delay openings at some parks and possible even curtail access based on concerns about public safety.
“The sequester threatens to derail this engine,” Salazar said. “The cuts in staffing and law enforcement will have a direct impact on local communities,” he said, adding that the cuts may require the complete closure of many, if not all, national wildlife refuges.
Every national park is a funded under a separate line item in the federal budget, which means that each park will be hit by the full 5 percent cut. That means that Great Smoky Mountains National Park would have to close five campgrounds for the summer. Portions of the cave tour at Mammoth Cave would be closed and interpretive programs at Gettysburg would also be affected, Jarvis said, explaining that his agency is already planning furloughs.
The 13 national park units in Colorado reported about 5.8 million visitors in 2012. In 2011, the parks generated an estimated $319 million in economic benefits for the state.
“We know national parks drive job creation,” Salazar said, adding that, in 2011, parks helped sustain 252,000 jobs, pumping some $30 billion into the economy. “People who visit parks need transportation, places to stay, and meals to eat, all of which support businesses and provide jobs in local communities.”
The statistics for 2011 are based on the spending of nearly 279 million national park visitors; more than one third of that total spending, or $13 billion, went directly into communities within 60 miles of a park. The numbers are on par with previous years.
“Everyone knows that national parks are great places to visit that offer inspiring educational experiences, unparalleled outdoor recreation, and a whole lot of fun,” Jarvis said. “But what this report shows is that America’s national parks are also critical economic engines, not only for our neighbors in gateway communities, but for our entire country. The national parks return more than $10 for every $1 the American taxpayer invests in the National Park Service; that makes good stewardship sense and good business sense.”
Salazar and Jarvis said the public can expect reduced hours and services not only at America’s 398 national parks but also at the 561 national wildlife refuges and over 268 public land units if Congress fail to act before the March 1 budget deadline.
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Jarvis – I am concerned about impacts to visitor safety, fewer rangers in the field,
reducing access to some areas …