Senators explore ways national parks can increase tourism and create jobs

The ability of national parks to boost tourism in the United States was the topic of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion, co-chaired by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. George LeMieux, ranking member.
Entitled “America the Beautiful: Promoting Our National Parks as Travel Destinations,” Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and LeMieux, R-Fla., examined the value of National Parks as part of the country’s tourism industry and their impact on job creation.

Voyageurs National Park Superintendent Michael Ward testified on the economic impact park tourism has on Minnesota’s northern communities. The hearing also featured testimony from award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

“Our National Parks are woven into American culture. They are on ‘must see’ lists for domestic and international travelers and are icons of America,” said Klobuchar. “But these parks are more than beautiful national resources. They are also important economic resources and increasing tourism at national parks will benefit Minnesota’s local economies and help create jobs.”

LeMieux added, “Our national parks showcase the raw beauty of America. By increasing tourism at national parks, we educate generations on the importance of protecting the environment and help communities survive through difficult economic times. Promoting our national parks as tourist destinations will help us both nationally and abroad.”

For every dollar spent in the national parks, another 50 cents is generated in the region. In 2008, tourists made approximately 275 million park visits, accounting for $11.6 billion of spending in gateway communities.

“In these small communities the park serves as one of the primary employers and the reason for which most private businesses exist,” said Ward. “Within three of the gateway communities, the livelihood of these people is completely dependent on tourism receipts associated with park visitors.”

Voyageurs National Park provides an estimated economic impact of approximately $11 million in spending and 200 jobs to the regional economy, according to a news release from Klobuchar’s office. The city of Orr, the communities of Ash River, Kabetogama, Crane Lake, and the city of International Falls are gateway communities that help support the park. Voyageurs National Park is celebrating its 35th Anniversary this year.

In 2008, tourists made 640,000 visits to Minnesota’s six national park units — VNP, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, Grand Portage National Monument, North Country Scenic Trail, Pipestone National Monument, Saint Croix National Scenic River. According to Klobuchar, those visits added nearly $30 million to the economy.

In total, the National Park Service has approximately 80 million acres of land and manages 391 designated federal sites throughout the country. Additionally, national parks create over 230,000 jobs.

“Even in times of economic distress, the parks are worth promoting, defending, and expanding,” said Ken Burns. “They are good for business, but equally good at providing much-needed, affordable recreation during these hard times.”

Burns’ recent documentary, “The National Parks: America's Best Idea” is a six-episode series aired on PBS that was filmed over the course of more than six years at various National Parks.

Klobuchar also stressed the need to promote national parks to international visitors. Klobuchar was a cosponsor of the bipartisan Travel Promotion Act, which was signed into law last month, and underscored the positive economic impact that international tourists have on our economy. On average, international visitors spend more than $4,000 per person during their visits and present an opportunity for growth.

In addition to Burns and Ward, the hearing also featured testimony from:

• Diane Shober, travel and tourism director for the state of Wyoming.

• William Shafroth, deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior.

• Scott Bacher, owner, Carlsbad KOA, New Mexico.

• Clyde Butcher, photographer, Florida.