The 16-day shutdown of the federal government last year resulted in a decline of 7.88 million visitors to national parks, according to a report released Monday by the National Park Service (NPS). The drop in visitation, which represents a 33.3 percent decline from average October visitation to national parks, resulted in $414 million in lost visitor spending.
California, Arizona, and North Carolina suffered the largest declines in visitation and visitor spending among its national parks. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans Tennessee and North Carolina, received 329,104 fewer visitors than average in its peak tourism season.
NPS notes that its analysis of declines in visitor spending does not capture the full economic cost of the shutdown on local communities near parks because it “does not estimate job, labor income, or output impacts which are typically considered longer term effects.”
Overall, the NPS report provides yet more evidence of the lasting impacts of the government shutdown on local economies and Americans’ views of national parks and public lands.
Public opinion research commissioned by Colorado College and jointly conducted by Republican and Democratic research firms in January, found that even three months after the government shutdown, 89 percent of voters in the West felt angry, annoyed, concerned, or upset about the government shutdown’s impacts on parks and public lands. This finding is consistent with the results of nation-wide research commissioned by the Center for American Progress which found that, in the wake of the shutdown, voters overwhelmingly felt that neither party was doing enough to protect national parks and public lands.
Since the government shutdown, however, the Obama Administration appears to have re-energized a land conservation agenda for the President’s second term.
In November, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell challenged Congress to begin to “pass the dozens of locally-supported bills — introduced by both Republicans and Democrats — that protect the places that Americans care about most.”
President Obama reinforced this message with his first-ever discussion of conservation in his State of the Union address in January, saying he plans to use his executive authority “to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Since then, the Administration has moved toward creating new national monuments in New Mexico and California, and took a bold step last week toward protecting the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska from a massive open-pit mining proposal.
Congress, on the other hand, has still not protected a single new acre of public land as a park, monument, or wildlife refuge since 2009 — the longest such stretch of inaction since World War II.
Heading into the mid-term elections in November, this continued inaction by Congress, along with further cuts to the budgets for parks and public lands, appear to be weighing on voters’ minds.
Among Western voters, 69 percent say they are “more likely to vote for a candidate who supports enhancing protections for some public lands, like national forests.”
Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands team at the Center for American Progress.