New study: National parks boost the economy

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A new peer-reviewed report touts the economic benefits of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to the surrounding region. According to the report, a record 4.25 million people visited Yellowstone in 2016. These visitors spent $524.3 million in communities around the park. That spending supported 8,156 jobs in the local area, and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $680.3 million.

“Yellowstone attracts people from around the country and the world who contribute significantly to the local economies in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho,” Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk commented. “The economic benefits our neighbors enjoy are a direct result of preserving Yellowstone’s spectacular thermal features, abundant wildlife, and dramatic scenery.”

Visitors to Grand Teton NP spent an estimated $597 million in local gateway communities in 2016. The ripple effects of that spending had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of over $779 million, and supported 9,365 jobs in nearby communities. The overall economic impacts of visitor spending during the National Park Service Centennial year increased seven percent from 2015 levels.

GTNP superintendent David Vela said, “In 2016 park staff and the global park community welcomed over 3.3 million recreational visitors to Grand Teton National Park. Visitors from around the world experienced all that this majestic place has to offer while contributing significantly in economic benefits to our nearby communities.”

National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning more than $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service. Grand Teton ranked among the top five national park areas in terms of economic benefit along with Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and Denali National Park.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. The report shows $18.4 billion of direct spending by 330.9 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 318,000 jobs nationally; 271,544 of those jobs are found in gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $34.9 billion.

According to the 2016 report, nationally most park visitor spending was for lodging (31.2%) followed by food and beverages (27.2%), gas and oil (11.7%), admissions and fees (10.2%), souvenirs and other expenses (9.7%), local transportation (7.4%), and camping fees (2.5%).

The report authors also produced an interactive tool to make their findings more accessible. People who use the tool can explore current year visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data.