National Park System Delivers $40 Billion To Gateway Communities But $12 Billion Maintenance Backlog Lingers
Parks Bring Economic Boon
Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend that typically launches the summer vacation season and millions of visitors driving to the nation’s extensive park system, the Interior Department released a report outlining the more than $40 billion in economic benefits from spending in gateway communities.
The annual National Park Visitor Spending Effects report details the $20.2 billion spent in communities located within 60 miles of a park in the National Park System, estimating more than 318 million visitors in 2018 and support for hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“This report emphasizes the tremendous impact the national parks have on our nation’s economy and underscores the need to fulfill President Trump’s plan to rebuild park infrastructure,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. “With 419 sites, and at least one in every state, our national parks continue to provide visitors, both local and destination, with innumerous recreational, inspirational, and world-class experiences.”
The economic benefits from national park visits and spending rose $2 billion from 2017, with overall economic output rising $4.3 billion. More than 329,000 jobs were supported by the spending last year, including 268,000 jobs in the park system’s gateway communities.
Visitor spending increased steadily at 37 percent between 2012 and 2018, with total visitors up 12.5 percent over the same period, a review by Western Wire reveals. Jobs are also up more than 35 percent, adding 86,000 jobs in seven years.
A state-by-state analysis of the National Park Visitor Spending results by Western Wire for western states shows $1.3 billion in economic contributions to Arizona, followed by $1.2 billion in Utah, $928 million for Wyoming, $633 million for Montana, and $497 million for Colorado.
Several of the nation’s most popular parks are located in these states, with Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona generating $947 million, followed Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park at $629 million and $513 million, respectively. Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park drew $306 million in visitor spending. Popular national recreation areas like Glen Canyon ($411 million) and Lake Mead ($336 million) are also critical to local economies.
Lodging for the hundreds of millions of visitors in 2018 yielded nearly $6.8 billion, followed by $4 billion for restaurants and bars, and $1.4 billion for grocery and convenience spending.
“National parks with their iconic natural, cultural and historic landscapes represent the heart and soul of America,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “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.”
Bipartisan Deferred Maintenance Funding Receives Hearing In June
A bipartisan push for legislation to create a $6.5 billion fund to address the Interior Department’s burgeoning $18 billion deferred maintenance backlog, with $12 billion alone located in the National Park Service, will move forward next month.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced a hearing for June, which includes the “Restore Our Parks Act.”
Senate Bill 500 would establish a five-year fund from 2019 through 2023 using an “amount equal to 50 percent of all energy development revenues due and payable to the United States from oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy development on Federal land and water” up to $1.3 billion per year.
A similar bill from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) last year also had bipartisan support. This year’s version is backed by 37 Republican and Democratic Senators, including several across the west: Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), as well as Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
Daines told Western Wire that his support for last year’s version of the maintenance package included the immense cultural and ecological inheritance the national parks represented.
“Our national parks are part of what set America – and Montana – apart from the rest of the world. They are worth protecting and preserving for Montanans today and future generations tomorrow,” Daines said last year.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has sponsored H.R. 1225, “Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act” with more than 220 House co-sponsors.
“Let’s move it and get it done,” Bishop said.
The latest figures for deferred maintenance at NPS parks and recreation areas, through September 2018, highlight the uphill climb the department faces, even if legislation authorizing $6.5 billion over the next five years manages to pass. Arizona still has $507 million in deferred maintenance backlogs, with the lion’s share, $313 million, for the Grand Canyon National Park alone.
The rest of the west is in a similar situation in terms of backlogs reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars each: California, $1.889 billion; Colorado, $247 million; Montana, $187 million; New Mexico, $121 million; Nevada, $252 million; Utah, $219 million; Washington, $427 million; and Wyoming, $771 million.
Americans Support Repairing Parks
A November 2018 poll released by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 76 percent of those surveyed would support a plan, like the $6.5 billion bill offered last year, to address the nation’s nearly $12 billion parks backlog.
More than 90 percent agreed that NPS should prioritize maintaining hiking trails in good condition (93 percent), preserve historic buildings and landmarks (94 percent), ensure roads are safe and can accommodate modern vehicles and RVs (95 percent), and update visitor facilities such as campgrounds and bathrooms (94 percent).
In 2018 Pew compiled a list of approximately 3,000 local, national, city/county, and elected officials that supported directing funding towards addressing the nation’s massive backlog. The organization estimated that an additional 110,000 infrastructure-related jobs could be created just to address the deferred maintenance required across the country’s historic and cultural buildings, parks, historic sites, and other federally managed resources and facilities.