Glacier National Park (Montana).
Credit: Greg Headley, flickr.
The report, released by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis during National Park Week, found that the National Park System’s record popularity—it hosted nearly 300 million visits in 2014, more than ever before—has yielded major benefits: $29.7 billion in total economic activity last year, supporting about 277,000 jobs.
The $29.7 billion economic output includes money spent by national park visitors in “gateway” areas (communities within 60 miles of parks) on lodging, restaurants or other amenities, and represents a 12 percent increase over 2013.
Sec. Jewell touted the economic importance of Americans wildlands more broadly at a recent event in Washington DC, pointing out that protected public lands help support the outdoor recreation industry, which sustains 6.1 million jobs and generates $646 billion in consumer spending annually.
According to the report, national parks also absorb 14.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, aiding the battle against climate change—and accounting for an additional economic gain of $582.5 million.
These statistics illustrate yet again the tremendous economic value of public lands, especially contrasted with recent history. Park visitation declined between 2012 and 2013, due in no small part to the federal government shutdown, taking a sizable bite out of regional economies. During the shutdown, gateway communities near national parks lost some $1.2 billion in tourism spending, among other adverse effects to public lands.
Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming). Credit: TinkurLab, flickr.
Despite their great economic importance, our park, refuge and forest systems remain severely strapped for cash. Especially as we approach the National Park Service’s centennial celebration in 2016, it is important to note that these places need our help to stay in good shape for future generations. The National Park Service is reportedly operating under an $11.5 billion maintenance backlog, and many vital conservation programs, including those that ensure access to wild places, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, are chronically underfunded.
Recently, the National Park Service launched a campaign to help even more Americans visit national parks—the Find Your Park project, part of a larger celebration of the National Park System’s centennial in 2016. In conjunction with that effort, we are working hard to ensure Congress funds national park maintenance and other critical conservation programs, so that these national icons can be handed down to future Americans.