Many of us in the U.S. have fond memories attached to a national park or monument. Although my children are now 30 and 33 years old, I still remember the looks of awe on their young faces when they first glimpsed the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon and California redwoods on family vacations.
This year, the National Park Service (NPS), which preserves some of the world’s most iconic natural and cultural treasures, turns 100 years old, and that’s cause for celebration. However, U.S. national parks aren’t just a source of breathtaking natural scenery and unforgettable vacation memories—they’re a vital part of our country’s economy.
In 2015, U.S. national parks and monuments received a record 307.2 million visitations from within the U.S. and around the world. The NPS reports that these visitors spent a combined total of $16.9 billion during their trips. That spending—which largely occurred in local “gateway regions,” or the communities within 60 miles of a park—supported more than 295,000 jobs and $11.1 billion in income for American workers, and a whopping $32 billion in economic output for the entire U.S. economy.
National park visitation sustains local economies around the country and is therefore a vital part of the larger U.S. travel and tourism industry. Travel supports 15.1 million jobs on every rung of the economic ladder. That’s one in nine employed Americans. What’s more, U.S. national parks directly support jobs that cannot be outsourced (there’s only one Yellowstone, after all), and, as such, they help fuel growth in other sectors and industries. Therefore, national parks create a local ripple effect that spreads outward into the entire U.S. economy.
This brings me back to the “gateway regions” I mentioned: Many are rural communities formed after the founding of NPS and have grown in size and prosperity as they offered lodging, restaurants and other services to accommodate national park visitors. The healthier the tourism-driven businesses around national parks are, the more their citizens can contribute to the U.S. economy as a whole—and the ensuing ripple effect will create jobs in multiple industries beyond travel.
All this is to say: whether you booked a room at an upscale lodge or made a grocery run in town for a camping trip, your vacation at a national park made our economy that much stronger.
Considering its impact after 100 years of existence, the U.S. national park system—hailed by many as America’s “best idea”—is clearly worth keeping around for another century. Fifty-seven U.S. national parks received record numbers of visitors last year, and the NPS’s historic anniversary will likely generate an even bigger surge through the end of 2016. My organization is a proud partner of NPS’s Every Kid in a Park campaign, which helps American fourth graders and their families discover all our national parks have to offer for free.
Join us in this effort, or simply make a trip to one of our country’s outstanding national parks on your next vacation. By finding your park, taking a day and exploring, you won’t just create lasting memories (or beautify your social media accounts)—you’ll help support thousands of jobs and grow the U.S. economy into the next century and beyond.
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