National parks may evoke thoughts of beautiful scenery, recreation and history. But a new study said Monday that they are something else, too: big job generators for local economies.
Utah is No. 5 among the states and the District of Columbia in the money that it reaps from nonlocal visitors to national park units, according to a study by the National Park Service and Michigan State University.
The report said that nonlocal visitors to Utah's National Park Service units in 2007 spent $484.6 million on food, hotels, souvenirs, gasoline and other items in communities within 50 miles of a park.
The only areas where park visitors spent more were California ($1.03 billion), the District of Columbia ($974.6 million), North Carolina ($682.5 million) and Florida ($521.4 million).
The study said that visitor spending supported 10,234 jobs in Utah near its parks. Payrolls from the parks themselves funded another 913 jobs. National park units in Utah supported 11,147 jobs overall in the state.
That means Utah also ranks No. 5 in the country for national parks-related jobs, behind California (24,626), D.C. (24,340), Arizona (18,257) and North Carolina (13,998).
The study said Utah parks had more than 8.1 million recreational visitors in 2007.
"Most of them need a place to stay overnight. They all needed meals each day and most of them bought something to take home and remind them of their experience. When you add that up, you get a sense of the economic impact national parks have across the country and it's significant," said National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar.
She used the numbers to build a case that the National Park Service's overall budget of $2.65 billion in 2007 was a good deal, in part, because it led visitors to spend $11.8 billion in parks and nearby communities nationwide.
"Every tax dollar spent on national parks resulted in more than $4 in visitor spending in communities within 50 miles of a national park site," Bomar said.
Figures for 2008 are not yet available, although Bomar said she expects such spending was as high or higher this year despite $4 per gallon gasoline during the peak summer travel period. She said visitation fell only slightly despite high-priced gasoline.
Just four of Utah's 13 National Park Service units brought more than 80 percent of nonlocal visitor spending in Utah
Zion, Glen Canyon (the Utah portion), Bryce Canyon and Arches.
Zion, the state's most-visited national park in 2007, attracted 2.7 million visitors, a third of all the state's national park visitors in 2007. They spent nearly $133 million and supported an estimated 2,843 jobs.
The Utah portion of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Lake Powell) attracted 1.7 million visitors, or a fifth of the state's total. They spent $119.6 million and supported 2,407 jobs
Bryce Canyon attracted 1 million visitors, an eighth of all nonlocal visitors. They spent $54.6 million and supported 1,089 jobs. And Arches attracted 860,000 visitors, about a tenth of the state's total. They spent $86.4 million and supported 2,093 jobs.
The estimated spending by nonlocal visitors to other Utah parks included: Capitol Reef, $28.1 million; Canyonlands, $20.9 million; Cedar Breaks, $19.7 million; Timpanogos Cave, $8.1 million; Natural Bridges, $4.7 million; Rainbow Bridge, $4.5 million; Dinosaur (Utah portion), $2.1 million; Golden Spike, $2.1 million; Hovenweep (Utah portion), $785,000.Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was not included in the study because it is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, not the National Park Service.