A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that in 2018, 14.7 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.1 billion in local gateway regions while visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway. These expenditures supported 15.9 thousand jobs in the local region and had a cumulative benefit of $1.3 billion in local gateway economies surrounding Blue Ridge Parkway.
“Much of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s history relates back to its important role as an economic engine for this region,” said J.D. Lee, Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent. “The 2018 visitor spending impacts remind us all of the important relationship between this park and our neighboring communities. The Blue Ridge experience is not complete without some time spent in one or more of the many towns and cities near the Parkway.”
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Egan Cornachione of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. The report shows $20.2 billion of direct spending by more than 318 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 329,000 jobs nationally; 268,000 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $40.1 billion.
National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy too, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service. Lodging expenses account for the largest share of national visitor spending, about $6.8 billion in 2018. Food expenses are the second largest spending area and visitors spent $4 billion in restaurants and bars and another $1.4 billion at grocery and convenience stores.
Visitor spending on lodging also supported more than 58,000 jobs and more than 61,000 jobs in restaurants. Visitor spending in the recreation industries supported more than 28,000 jobs and spending in retail supported more than 20,000 jobs.
Report authors also produced an interactive tool that enables users to explore visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data. The interactive tool and report are available at the NPS Social Science Program webpage: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm
To learn more about national parks in North Carolina or Virginia and how the National Park Service works with local communities to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to www.nps.gov/nc or www.nps.gov/va.