National Parks Boast a $34 Billion Boom as Budget Cuts Loom
from the National Parks and Conservation Association
Record-visitation pumps billions into national, local economies in 2016
WASHINGTON – National park visitation generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016, a $2.9 billion increase from 2015, and supported 318,000 jobs, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced today. The number reflects the significant, positive economic impact national park visitors have on gateway communities, including sales, lodging and jobs, as well as the impact on the national economy as a whole.
Read the rest of the press release here.
It’s widely known that our national parks are having infrastructure problems because funding has been so insufficient that keeping roads, bridges, structures, trails, and emergency and communications systems up to date is impossible.
Like infrastructure needs outside the park system, allocating money to roads and bridges isn’t sexy in spite of the fact that we see periodic reports about the number of bridges, dams, locks, levees and other vital transportation and safety structures and systems that are below par throughout the country.
Writing for SmartAsset in January 2016, Amelia Josephson said that, “According to the NPS, the nearly $3 billion appropriated for the NPS budget falls short of what’s needed. In May 2015 the park service said it had delayed $11.5 billion in necessary maintenance in 2014 due to budget shortfall. Although national parks charge fees, these fees are not nearly enough to fund the national park system, which is why the NPS depends so heavily on Congress’ budget appropriations.”
A small fraction of this money can be made up by friends of the parks organizations that raise money and fund discrete projects within the parks they’re associated with that would otherwise fall outside NPS’ spending. But this is like bailing a lake with a thimble. It does help, but the overall park’s system continues to fall behind.
Cheating the parks isn’t just about nature, protected areas, and outdoor recreation. It impacts the local economies as well–generally those within 60 miles of a park. As the NPCA press release notes, park visitation doesn’t simply bring money to the park, but also to gas stations, camp grounds, stores, restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area. Those who visit national parks tend to stray longer than random tourists who make brief stops at roadside attractions and less-well-known tourist destinations. Of course, park service employee salaries add to the “new money” brought into the regional economy from the park.
Cheating the parks and other public lands is cheating the future, and not just the environment on which we all depend even if we never go out and visit it. It reduces the value of the country in terms of assets and makes the ultimate loss of parks, or parts of parks, more and more likely in the future. We can pretend it isn’t happening just as many pretend there’s no such thing as global warming. That’s the head-in-the-sand approach. We can do better.