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Economic Impact of National Park Service Units

Understanding the effect of visitation, spending, and other economic values on nearby communities

Updated July 2014

Executive Summary | Interactive | Citation | Broader Value of National Parks

Executive Summary

Protected public lands such as national parks can play an important economic role for local communities in a number of ways.

Visitation, tourism, and jobs directly related to nearby public lands annually contribute billions to regional economies while creating hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs. Headwaters Economics has created an updated interactive that lists the visits, spending, jobs, and income created in gateway communities for each of the National Park Service units for 2013.

At the same time, the economic benefits of national parks extend beyond tourism. In today’s economy, the greatest value of natural amenities and recreation opportunities often lies in the ability of protected lands to attract and retain people, entrepreneurs, their businesses, and the growing number of retirees who locate for quality of life reasons.

Interactive: Visits, Spending, Jobs, and Income from National Parks

This interactive shows visits, non-local spending, and the number of private sector jobs created in gateway communities for each of the National Park Service units.  Visitation trend data are available upon request.

Interactive page on economic impact of National Parks


The visitation and spending effects data for the interactive come from the National Park Service. The citation should read in full: Cullinane Thomas, C., C. Huber, and L. Koontz. 2014. 2013 National Park visitor spending effects: Economic contributions to local communities, states, and the nation. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2014/824. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Broader Economic Value of National Parks

National Park Service units positively impact gateway communities in a variety of ways such as visitor spending, quality of life, and attracting workers and businesses.

Headwaters Economics has developed a number of tools, many of them described below, to help users better understand their local economy and the role of protected public lands.

  • Socioeconomic Profiles: the Economic Profile System is a free, easy-to-use software that provides detailed reports at the community, county, or state level.
  • National Monuments: case studies and reports on the economic performance of communities adjacent to western national monuments.
  • Protected Lands and Income: study and interactive showing the amount of per capita income explained by protected federal lands for each county in the non-metropolitan western U.S.
  • Economists on Public Lands: more than 100 economists urged President Obama to “create jobs and support businesses by investing in our public lands infrastructure and establishing new protected areas such as parks, wilderness, and monuments.”
  • West Is Best: this report finds that the West’s popular national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and other public lands offer its growing high-tech and services industries a competitive advantage.
  • Library on the Value of Public Lands: contains numerous reports, case studies, bibliographies, tools, and research concerning the value of western protected public lands.
For more information, contact:
Ray Rasker, Ph.D. at 406.570.7044 or [email]