How national parks rank in visits and spending

Story by Morgan Simmons
Scripps Howard News Service
February 5, 2012
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A new study by Michigan State University shows that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the top national park in the U.S. for visitor spending.

The "Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll" estimates that in 2010 the park's 9 million visitors spent more than $818 million in neighboring communities -- double the $415 million generated by Grand Canyon National Park, the second-ranked park in the study.

California's Yosemite National Park ranked third in visitor spending with $354 million; Yellowstone National Park ranked fourth with $334 million; and the Blue Ridge Parkway ranked fifth with $299 million.

The study also estimates that visitor spending in the Smokies supported 11,367 jobs in communities within a 60-mile radius of the park.

In 2009 the same study found visitor spending around the Smokies to be $799.6 million with 11,112 local jobs created, both slightly below 2010, but still way ahead of other national parks.

According to the 2010 study, the national park system as a whole received 281 million recreational visits, and park visitors injected $12.13 billion into local economies.

Half of the nationwide park spending was for lodging and meals; 19 percent was for gas and local transportation; 10 percent was for amusement; 8 percent was for groceries and 13 percent for retail purchases.

Also in 2010, the national park system generated 43,160 jobs in restaurants; 32,000 jobs in lodging sectors; 23,000 jobs in retail and wholesale trades; and 18,560 jobs in amusement, according to the study.

Last year the Smokies barely cleared the 9 million mark in visitation, but that was still way ahead of Grand Canyon National Park, the second most-visited park with 4.2 million visitors, and Yellowstone National Park, which had 3.4 million visitors in 2011.

Morgan Simmons

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