Yellowstone and Grand Teton near top of list in visitor spending

Only a handful of National Park Service destinations generate the magnitude of spending by visitors in gateway communities as the powerful duo of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway cresting the southern Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina is the only Park Service attraction to fuel more visitor spending than Yellowstone and Grand Teton, according to a Park Service report released this week titled 2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects.

The report by the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Office in Fort Collins, Colo., also provides some insights into visitors’ spending patterns, and a companion study looks at the economic impact to gateways of the October 2013 government shutdown.

Based on visitor surveys from the 2012 study period, the report estimates visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway spent $902.5 million at gateway businesses, compared to a combined $892.3 million around Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway which connects the two.

Rounding out the “top 10” visitor spending destinations were Great Smoky Mountains National Park, $741.5 million; Grand Canyon National Park, $453.6 million; Yosemite, $378.8 million; Denali National Park, $371.5 million; Golden Gate National Recreation Area, $337.9 million; Lake Mead National Recreation Area, $252.2 million; Jefferson Memorial, $228.3 million; and Olympic National Park, $220 million.

On a statewide basis, the report calculates that visitors to NPS destinations spent the most in California, $1.5 billion in 2012, followed by North Carolina, $1.1 billion, Alaska, 1.06 billion, Virginia, $926 million, and Wyoming, ranking fifth, $721 million.

Visitor spending in Wyoming includes the gateways to Devils Tower National Monument, $24.5 million, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, 12.5 million, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, $9.8 million, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, $2.9 million, and Fossil Butte National Monument, $787,000.

The report, 2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, also analyzes job creation and resulting economic spinoffs to gateway communities. It’s online at

“Our national parks help propel our nation’s economy, drawing hundreds of millions of visitors 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,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Among other findings, the 2012 economic analysis states that most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent); hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts (27 percent);  and other amusement and recreation (20 percent).

A companion study, the 2013 Government Shutdown Report, estimates that the shutdown of the federal government the first two weeks of October cost the gateway communities about $25 million compared to previous Octobers.

NOTE: This story has been corrected to accurately state the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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