Great Smokies Top Money Generator in NPS System
By Bob Miller
National Park Service
According to a recently-released National Park Service (NPS) study, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only the nation’s most visited national park, it also tops the 391 national park units in visitor spending. The study estimates that in 2008 the Park’s 9 million visitors spent over $800 million in the gateway communities surrounding the Park. The study also estimates that 14,569 local jobs were supported by Park visitor spending.
The study, “National Park Visitor Spending and Payroll Impacts”, was conducted by Dr. Daniel Stynes of the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies at Michigan State University.
According to Stynes, “The National Park Service received 274.9 million recreational visits in 2008. Park Visitors spent $11.56 billion in local gateway regions. Parks also impact the local region through the NPS payroll. In 2008 the national Park Service employed 24,954 people with a total payroll of $1,203 million in wages and salaries and $313 million in payroll benefits.”
The study provides a park-by-park and state-by-state breakdowns of each park unit’s visitation, visitor spending, and local jobs supported at NPS units from Alaska to the Virgin Islands. The top five NPS units in terms of spending generated were Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN/NC) with $800 million, Grand Canyon (AZ) at $423 million, Yellowstone (MT/WY/ID) at $345 million, Blue Ridge Parkway (VA/NC) with $342 million and Yosemite (CA) with $292 million.
Information is also included to reflect how much the unit’s NPS payroll contributes to the economy around each park. With a 2008 payroll of $14,213,000 the Smokies ranked 5th in the amount of payroll available to be spent by its employees. Yellowstone came in first with $23,924,000 followed by Yosemite with $21,069,000, Grand Canyon with $21,063,000, and Gateway National Recreation Area (NY/NJ) at $16,249,000.
Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said, “Over 75 years ago when community leaders in Tennessee and North Carolina sought to create this national park some were striving to preserve the last vestiges of old growth forest in the Southeast. Many others saw that a national park in the Southern Appalachians could become a powerful magnet to attract tourists who would contribute to the local economy. “
“Fortunately, both interests got what they wanted.” Ditmanson concluded, “Early planners recognized that nearly all of the infrastructure to serve the new visitors could be developed outside the Park. By choosing not to build hotels, restaurants, gas stations and the like inside the Park, we have been able to minimize the impact of those facilities on the Park while maximizing the opportunity for local communities to offer whatever goods and service visitors might want or need.”
The spending estimates at each park were derived from a money generation model that begins with a park’s visitation, party size, length of stay, and proportion of local vs. non-local visitors. Those statistics are combined with locally-indexed cost estimates for restaurants, lodging, amusements, locally-purchased fuel and transportation, and retail spending.
The entire study can be found at: https://web4.canr.msu.edu/mgm2/.