National Parks Fuel Local Economies, So Why Are We Slashing Their Budget?

Posted by Meghan Neal


 
It's summertime—that magical time of year when the weather's warm, school's out, energy is high, and Mother Nature is tempting you to get away and explore the great outdoors.
 
It's also high season for America's National Parks, and the rich tourism-based economies of the towns and communities surrounding them. 
 
Unfortunately, sequestration means more than $150 million was cut from the National Park Service budget this year. This means the parks are forced to scale back services—fewer trails, shorter hours, less staff—and that boils down to fewer visitors.
 
These local economies depend on the tourists that busy their streets—renting lodging, buying meals, shopping, and enjoying the entertainment and recreation in the area. 
 
More than 282 million people visited America's national parks last year. According to a 2011 government report, "The contribution of this park visitor spending to the national economy amounted to 251,600 jobs, $9.34 billion in labor income."
 
The report also measured the effect of spending in surrounding communities. "Combining local impacts across all parks yielded a total local impact of 162,400 jobs, $4.58 billion in labor income, and $8.15 billion value added."
 
Some folks aren't just standing around complaining about it. Upon hearing Yellowstone National Park was strapped for cash and couldn't plow the entry way in time for visiting season, residents and small businesses and the Chamber of Commerce in the communities nearby raised $200,000 to start plowing on schedule. 
 
It's a laudable feat, but Chamber President Scott Balyo said it's not a sustainable solution. "C'mon Washington, let's get it together," he said. "Because you're holding the economy hostage."
 
This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Go to Your Local Park. Follow along and join the conversation at good.is/citizenship and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.