ST. GEORGE — A natural resource report prepared at the request of the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service was released Monday. The report evaluates the effect of the October 2013 federal government shutdown on visitor spending at national parks and their gateway communities.
Despite overall lost revenues estimated at $414 million, the report showed notable revenues generated during the reopening of some national parks for those states, Utah included, that entered into reopening agreements with the federal government during the shutdown.
Utah’s agreement with the federal government allowed it to reopen all of its five national parks, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Rainbow Bridge and Cedar Breaks national monuments. It was the first of several states that made similar agreements, and Utah’s were opened for the longest period, six days, from Oct. 11-16, 2013, when the shutdown ended.
“We didn’t need this report to tell us how important our national parks are to tourism and our economy,” Nate McDonald, public information officer with Gov. Gary Herbert’s office said.
By the report’s analysis, Utah generated about $9.95 million in national park-related visitor spending in gateway communities during the six-day reopening period. The state advanced money for 10 days but only six days elapsed before the government shutdown ended. The federal government repaid Utah for the remaining four days. In the end, Utah paid $999,432 to reopen its parks for six days.
Each dollar Utah used to open its parks generated about $10 in visitor spending in return, according to the Interior, with 153,400 visits during the six-day reopening period. Thereupon, the report concludes:
… According to internal NPS records, approximately 16 percent of visitor spending in national parks in Utah occurred inside the park boundaries. Based on this estimate, of the $9.95 million in visitor spending during the state funded period, approximately $1.59 million was spent within the national parks in Utah and the remaining $8.36 million was spent in the gateway regions surrounding the parks. As shown … the amount of visitor spending by each park more than offset the total cost paid by the state to keep the parks open during the remainder of the shutdown and eliminated the uncertainty of lost NPS visitor spending to local gateway businesses. …
“Utahns understand very clearly how important our national parks are to our state economy, particularly in rural Utah,” Gov. Gary Herbert said. “The report released by the Department of the Interior shows what we have understood all along: we made the right decision to re-open our parks during the federal government shutdown.”
In a press conference held Monday, Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said: “These places of history, culture and natural wonder offer unparalleled experiences and return $10 for every $1 American taxpayers invest in the National Park Service.”
Across the U.S. during October 2013, overall national parks visitation declined by over 7.88 million visitors, which is down 33.3 percent when compared to average October visitation numbers collected from the three years prior to the shutdown. Using these visitation numbers, the report estimated that in parks and gateway communities across the country, the result of the shutdown was a total loss of $414 million in national parks-related visitor spending.
States that experienced the highest declines in visitor spending during October 2013 compared to normal averages were California and Arizona.
Utah came in seventh on the highest declines list. Of its parks and national areas, those that experienced declines in revenue over $2 million were:
- Arches National Park, 35,543 decline in visitors with an associated $3.9 million loss
- Bryce Canyon National Park, 45,468 decline in visitors with a $3.6 million loss
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, 59,695 decline in visitors with a $3.4 million loss
- Zion National Park, 59,053 decline in visitors with a $3.1 million loss
In Arizona, Grand Canyon saw a decline of 163,653 visitors with associated loss of $17 million; but Arizona’s agreement with the federal government reopening the park for five days brought in 49,436 visitors with an estimated $5.1 million in visitor spending.
There were several things the report admittedly could not account for such as the possibility that not all monies were lost but may have been spent at a later date as visitor trips were rescheduled, or spent in other nearby locations. A previous St. George News report found that sites like Snow Canyon State Park saw jumps in their visitation during the national parks shutdown. Impacts on jobs, local income and national park employees are not reflected in the study.
“Our national parks help propel our nation’s economy, drawing hundreds of millions of visitors every year who are the lifeblood of the hotels, restaurants, outfitters, and other local businesses that depend on a vibrant and reliable tourism and outdoor recreation industry supported by our public lands,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said upon release of the report.
Visitor spending averages were calculated using estimates from an annual NPS Visitor Spending Effects report for the year 2012. Spending averages covered all trip expenses within roughly 60 miles of the park.
The annual National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects report was also released Monday and can be found here.
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- Shutdown: Feds to allow states to open parks
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- Zion ‘occupied’ as Utah national parks reopen
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