National park visitors added $26.5 billion to economy in 2013

Bison at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, which drew more than 3 million visitors in 2013.

Credit: Jim Peaco (Yellowstone National Park NPS), flickr.

Visitors to national parks in 2013 contributed $26.5 billion to the national economy, supporting nearly 240,000 jobs, according to a new report.

In a study released July 18, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that its network of parks and other public lands drew more than 273 million recreation visits in 2013, leading to $26.5 billion in total economic output. This included $14.6 billion spent in “gateway” areas (communities within 60 miles of parks), chiefly from lodging and restaurants serving tourists.

Just days prior, a report found that lands managed by the Department of the Interior, which includes the NPS, contributed $360 billion in output to the U.S. economy in 2013--including $41 billion in recreation spending:

These illustrations of the tremendous economic value of public lands notwithstanding, park visitation actually declined between 2012 and 2013. This was due in no small part to the federal government shutdown of last fall, which took 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. This chart of monthly park visitors in 2013 compared to 2012 hints at the impact of both the shutdown and the lingering damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy :

Source: NPS

More broadly, our park, refuge and forest systems remain severely strapped for cash. Many vital conservation programs, including those that ensure access to places like these like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, are chronically underfunded, and recent budget proposals from Congress fail to give the agencies the money they need yet again. Learn more about how conservation pays.

Read the full National Park Service report [PDF]

Photo gallery: national parks that need funding