Economy
4:29 pm
Mon March 5, 2012

Local Economy Receiving Big Boost From National Parks

One of the most effective boosts to the economy may come as a surprise, national parks.

In Pennsylvania, visitor spending totaled more than $357 million in 2010 and supported more than 5,500 jobs in 18 national parks.

A report issued by the National Park Service showed that 643,000 visitors in 2010 spent over $28 million in the five national parks in Western Pennsylvania.

National Park Service chief spokesman David Barna says that number is just from "in park" spending, and doesn't include the indirect impact on local and regional businesses.

"This shouldn't come as a surprise to places like Yellowstone and Yosemite where these parks represent the huge economic engine in the local community, but it has been quite a surprise for us that all of the smaller historic sites and battlefields here in the east are certainly a big contributor to the local economy," says Barna.

But the Park Service is trying to diversify its visitor population. "We are principally a middle class, Caucasian visit, said Barna. "In other words, we need to do a better job of attracting better audiences: recent immigrants from the southern hemisphere, from Asia, are just not reflected in our visitation. African Americans only make up maybe 1% of the visitors where they represent 10-12% of the society."

One national park that will certainly boost the economy is the Flight 93 Memorial which isn't even completed yet.

Barna says that it is a place of solace and respect much like Arlington National Cemetery. "It will provide a teaching lesson to Americans about the tragic events of September 11th, and about terrorism, and about what people are willing to do and sacrifice to help their fellow Americans," said Barna.

More than 250,000 people visited the memorial in Somerset County last year, with most being around the time of the 10th anniversary of September 11th when the dedication of the memorial took place. He said they expect about 400,000 to visit it this year.

According to the report, the National Park System contributed more than $31 billion to local economies and supported 258,000 jobs in 2010 nationwide. Last Friday the White House hosted a conference to explore the link between conservation and strong local economies through tourism, outdoor recreation, and healthy lands, waters and wildlife.