Utah's national parks and monuments are more than environmental treasures.

According to a new report released Wednesday by the National Parks Conservation Association, they are integral in buoying local Utah economies.

The report, Landscapes of Opportunity, focused on the ways in which national parks influence the local economies of Grand and San Juan counties, home to Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments. By attracting people and activity to their communities, it found that parks lend economic diversity and stability.

"The economic base has been changing over the last 10 to 20 years in these communities," said David Nipkin, NPCA's Southwest regional director. Apart from the current economic crisis, the departure of the mining industry in Southern Utah left large gaps in the economic fabric of the region. "These parks are a world-class asset that formed a solid economic foundation for these counties.

The report found that each year, 1.2 million people visit Arches and Canyonlands national parks, which results in an estimated $31 million of tourism-related spending in San Juan County and $107 million in Grand County.

Economist Daniel Stynes, who contributed to the report, estimated that in 2006, this spending supported 2,315 jobs, resulting in nearly $37 million in personal income.

In difficult economic times, parks encouraged growth in their communities, the report said. Between 1998 and 2006, travel-related jobs grew by 27 percent in Grand and San Juan counties, while jobs in other sectors grew by only 5 percent.

In the past few years, the effects have been two-fold. Nipkin noted that in a time of financial insecurity, "our parks have become a more affordable vacation," encouraging domestic tourism over international travel.

At the same time, the depreciated dollar has invited more travelers from abroad to Utah.

"We've noticed a significant number of Europeans coming through Moab in the past few years," said Ken Davey, Moab County's economic development director. "They wouldn't be coming here if it weren't for the national parks."

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