Parks generate $485M for Utah

National study » Nonlocal visitors drive local economies.
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Utah's national parks enrich not only our souls but also the economy.

Parks infuse more than 11,000 jobs and nearly $485 million into the Utah economy, says a new study. Nationally, the parks accounted for 188,000 jobs and more than $18 billion in economic activity.

That's about $4 in benefits for every taxpayer dollar spent on the park system, said Park System Director Mary A. Bonar. It's money spent on hotels and food, souvenirs and travel.

"When you add that up, you get a sense of the economic impact national parks have across the country -- and it's significant," she said in a news release.

The report, National Park Visitor Spending and Payroll Impacts, looks at what more than 275 million nonlocal visitors spent on their trips in 2007. It was conducted by the park service's social science division and a Michigan State University economist.

The study's conclusions were no surprise to Ken Davey, an economic development specialist with Moab City. He said about 70 percent of the area's economy traces back to tourism and the parks. At Arches alone, one of the two national parks that Moab serves, visitors flock through the gates at a rate of 2,500 to 3,000 a day in the busy summer months. That adds up to about 1,000 hotel rooms and $60-per-person spending a day.

"So, yeah, that has tremendous impact," he said. "It's a tremendous economic driving engine."

Moab bookstore owner Andy Nettell called the parks "the lifeblood for our economic community. … It's huge."

The community leverages the parks for everything, including drawing people to the area for activities like Jeep rides, biking and rafting outside of the parks. And the whole state recognizes the parks' draw, he added, pointing to the Delicate Arch license plate.

Nettell and Davey mentioned the recent fight over a now-dead proposal by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to allow mining leases just outside the parks. That's why, they said, it is crucial for the community to preserve the landscape.

"We know people aren't going to travel 8,000 miles from Europe to look at oil wells," said Davey.