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National Park Service reports effects of October 2013 government shutdown

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A report released by the National Park Service recently details the effects of closing the parks for sixteen days during the October 2013 government shutdown.

Basing its findings on information from the National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics Office and a visitor spending effects model developed by the park service through its Social Science Program, the park service released some startling figures.

  • The park service estimates a 7.88 million decline in October visitation, resulting in a loss of $141 million in visitor spending in “gateway” communities—the towns at the entrances to national parks across the country, where visitors enjoy restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, shopping, and tour guides for adventures inside the park.
  • Gateway communities near 45 parks experienced a loss of more than $2 million each in October visitor spending, as a direct result of the parks being closed. The greatest loss occurred in the gateway communities in Tennessee and North Carolina, during peak fall foliage season in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where October visits dropped by 28 percent, resulting in a loss of $25.6 million in revenue compared with the three previous years.
  • Five states saw a decline of more than $20 million each in October visitor spending in comparison to previous years.
  • The report notes that each dollar of funding for the 14 parks that reopened before the end of the shutdown generated an estimated $10 in visitor spending.

In addition to Great Smoky Mountains, declines in revenue in the tens of millions took place in entrance towns for Grand Canyon, Acadia, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, affecting the states of Arizona, Maine, Wyoming, and Colorado.

In states with large numbers of popular national parks, lost revenue reached even higher levels. California saw declines of more than $30 million, with the combined losses generated by a total of 26 national parks including Yosemite, Death Valley, Mohave, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Arizona saw losses above $27 million in entrance towns for its 22 national parks. North Carolina (10 parks), Wyoming (7 parks including Yellowstone and Grand Teton), and Virginia (22 parks) all saw lost revenue above $20 million during the 16 days that the parks were closed.

“Today’s economic report… confirms the tremendous contribution that all national parks make to our national economy, and how extremely damaging the 16-day government shutdown was to our 401 national parks, park visitors, and local businesses,” said Craig Obey, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “During the government shutdown, we heard from the American people about how important these treasured places are to local businesses, jobs and the economy, and how much they love parks and want them open for business, well-staffed, and fully funded. Congress and President Obama must not underestimate how much Americans love to visit treasured places like Yellowstone, the Everglades, San Antonio Missions and the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall—and how much money they spend traveling to our national parks and the surrounding local communities.”

A handful of parks that include a public road or waterway remained partially open during the shutdown, and saw a modest increase in use of the park’s road or canal during October 2013 when compared to previous years. The main road through Big Bend National Park, for example, remained open, generating just over $500,000 in revenue for the park’s entrance towns during the first two weeks in October 2013.

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