National park visitors spend more than $35 million a day. When the parks are open

Niraj Chokshi

- Washington Post
On a typical October day, visitors to California’s national parks spend nearly $4 million in that state, an analysis of official data shows.
Nationally, more than $35 million is spent each October day in the areas where the nation’s more than 300 national park sites. The analysis, conducted by the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, shows how much some local economies rely on national parks, many of them closed due to the federal government shutdown.
The analysis draws from two official sources data: local-area visitor spending data were pulled from an official February report on 2011 local spending; and visitor estimates were created by averaging 2011 and 2012 October data, typically available on the National Parks Web site, which is partially out of operation due to the shutdown.
The economic boon of October visitor spending varies greatly. Visitors to Washington, D.C.’s national park sites spend roughly $4.5 million in the area on a typical October day, more than in any state. California comes next with $3.9 million a day, followed by North Carolina, where visitor spending contributes an estimated $2.7 million daily. In Arizona, visitor spending contributes $2.5 million daily, while visitor spending in Tennessee adds $2.4 million to the local economy. The spending totals may differ depending on the month, as some parks are more popular during different parts of the year.
Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains spend more than $3.3 million a day in the local area, according to the analysis. The Grand Canyon region gets roughly $1.2 million in visitor spending and Yosemite receives roughly $1.1 million locally.
Of course, the temporary shutdown doesn’t necessarily mean local economies are losing the full $35 million in daily spending. Some vacationers no doubt continued with their trips, spending money in other ways. And, as the authors of the February report point out, people rarely take trips exclusively to national parks.
“For multi-purpose trips, it is difficult to determine what portion of the spending should be attributed to the park visit,” they wrote. “This is especially a problem for historic sites and parks in urban areas or parks in multiple-attraction destinations.”
The authors note that they tried to account for some obvious other complications, too. Visits to parkways and urban parks were assumed to be day trips and only a single night was counted for overnight trips. They also tried to account for areas like D.C. where parks are clustered by assuming an average visitor goes to more than one park in a single day.
Still, regions are no doubt taking a hit as vacations are cut short and day trips canceled due to the park closures.