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Utah’s $1 Million Decision to Open Shuttered National Parks Paid Off

Mar 04, 2014 6:00 am

Skift Take

Utah made $10 for every $1 it spent to reopen the parks highlighting the local economic engines that the U.S. government shut down last fall. The silver lining is the appreciation the parks have enjoyed in the aftermath.

— Samantha Shankman

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Martijn Nijenhuis  / Flickr

The entrance to Zion National Park in Utah. Martijn Nijenhuis / Flickr


Utah’s decision to dip into state funds and spend nearly $1 million to reopen national parks during the partial government shutdown last fall paid off, according to a federal report released Monday.

Visitors to national parks in the state spent about $10 for every $1 the state paid the U.S. government to reopen nine parks along with monuments and recreation areas during a six-day period in October, the National Park Service report said.

During that time, there were 154,000 visits that led to an estimated $9.95 million in visitor spending, the report said. That includes money spent on gas, lodging, food and at outfitters in communities within 60 miles of the parks.

It was most pronounced in Zion National Park, where 58,000 visits were logged during the six days, with people spending an estimated $3 million, the report shows.

The estimates were calculated by comparing visits and money spent during the previous three Octobers.

The reopening of the parks helped Utah avoid economic losses. Still, owners of hotels, restaurants, convenience stores and guide outfitters took a hit during the first 10 days of the shutdown.

The overall number of visits to national parks in Utah dipped by 34 percent in October compared to the three-year average for that month. The decline cost state an estimated $17.7 million, the National Park Service said.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Monday in a conference call that the shutdown was a striking reminder of how powerful an economic engine national parks are for local economies.

Throughout the country, an estimated 7.88 million fewer people visited parks during the government shutdown, resulting in a loss of $414 million in visitor spending in nearby communities, the report shows.

“The very unfortunate government shutdown of October had one sliver-lining: Communities realized just how much benefit they get from the parks being open,” Jewell said. “Let’s hope we never have to go there again.”

The new National Park Service report said Arches Canyon National Park, outside Moab, lost an estimated 35,500 visits that could have led to $3.9 million spent in nearby communities. The loss reached $3.6 million at Bryce Canyon National Park; $3.4 million at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; and $3.1 million at Zion.

About 10 days into the 16-day shutdown, the Obama administration allowed states to pay to reopen national parks to offset harm to tourism.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was the first governor to take the opportunity, sending about $1.67 million in state reserve money to reopen five national parks and three other sites for 10 days.

The shutdown ended six days later, and the federal government has repaid Utah about $666,000 in unused funds.

The state has not been reimbursed the other $1 million, and may never be. The agreement was clear that states would not be reimbursed unless their congressional delegation made it happen through separate allocations, Jewell said.

The National Park Service also released its 2012 year-end report for visits and economic impact. It shows 9.5 million people visited Utah’s national parks and monuments in 2012, leading to $613.7 million in visitor spending.

The estimates is based on surveys from national parks that indicate what visitors spend on average during a visit for lodging, food, activities, gas and souvenirs.

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Follow Brady McCombs at @BradyMcCombs.

Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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