National monuments have a monumental impact on the U.S. economy

President Obama protected Colorado's Browns Canyon as a National Monument in late 2014, helping to preserve and grow outdoor economies around the Arkansas River. 

Arkansas Digital Imaging. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original publishing date in July, 2013.

National monuments not only protect America’s important wild and historic places, they protect its economy, too. 

As President Barack Obama designates new national monuments--the last being Browns Canyon in Colorado and two other historic monuments in Chicago and Hawaii--there is no doubt the designations open the door for economic growth in America’s local communities by serving as engines for tourism and outdoor recreation. Businesses from outfitters to river guides to local coffee shops all stand to benefit from the increased tourism created by monument designations.

After New Mexico's Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was created in 2013, visitation to the area increased by 40 percent in the first year alone. 

Since gaining monument status in 2012, Fort Ord, Calif., has experienced an impressive growth in visitations--from 40,000 visitors a year in 1999 to nearly 100,000 currently. 

Generally, national parks and monuments are known to help local economies diversify, and counties with protected public lands like national monuments have been more successful at holding property values and attracting high-wage employers

Monuments support economic growth and create jobs.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument experienced an increase of visitors by 40 percent in the first year after its designation. Image by BLM New Mexico.

The trickle down effect

A study conducted in 2011 for the U.S. National Park Service reported a whopping $13 billion of direct spending by 279 million visitors to national parks, monuments and other sites within the national park system. Spending occurred in communities within 60 miles of a national park system unit and supported 252,000 jobs, most of which are in communities near National Park Service sites. All in all, visitor spending had a $30 billion impact on the entire U.S. economy.

According to findings, 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). 

For example, at New Mexico's White Sands National Monument alone, 438,511 visitors spent $15.7 million in the local economy supporting 308 jobs in 2008.

Photo: White Sands National Monument, by uıɐɾ ʞ ʇɐɯɐs, flickr

“We are incredibly lucky to have a national monument in our community. National monument designation for White Sands means an untold amount of free advertising for our community as outdoors enthusiasts come from all over to explore the dunes. These are people who eat at our restaurants, sleep in our hotels and help provide our small businesses with a solid foundation that will never go away," said local resident and small business owner Joyce Zimmer.

Further south, a 2012 study by Denver-based BBC Research and Consulting predicted New Mexico’s recently designated Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to nearly double the region's $17.2 million in annual revenue to more than $32 million and create some 300 new jobs for northern New Mexico.

Play hard, spend hard

As a direct result of Rio Grande del Norte’s prolific outdoor recreation opportunities, local rafting companies are hiring more staff and investing in more infrastructure in anticipation of more visitors.

There’s no denying it. As one of the main catalysts for spending in and around our national monuments, outdoor recreation is putting local economies to work.

Not convinced yet? Americans spend nearly as much on snow sports ($53 billion) as they do on internet access ($54 billion). They spend more on bicycling gear and trips ($81 billion) than they do on airplane tickets and fees ($51 billion). In total, outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion to the national economy annually.

These figures come from a recent report by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) that confirms Americans—140 million of them—are making outdoor recreation on public lands a priority in their lives.

Chart: Outdoor Industry Association

Cashing in on national monuments

The Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to help protect America’s treasures—and, from the looks of it, America’s economy.

But in recent years, a minority of anti-conservation lawmakers have tried to undermine the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act. Numerous bills have been introduced to weaken the act. At The Wilderness Society, we believe such attacks are out of line with American conservation values.

National monuments will continue to generate jobs and support strong economies if public lands are initially invested in. Wilderness advocates for conservation funding so that America's wild lands can continue to be fully accessible and enjoyed.

Learn about our existing national monuments.