published on May 11, 2017 - 2:14 PM
Written by David Castellon

Spending by visitors to the Central Valley’s three national parks totaled more than $668 million last year, the highest amount in the five years federal officials have calculated regional commerce generated by the parks.

Yosemite National Park had far and away the most visitors of the three last year at 5.02 million, so it’s not surprising they spent the most, $520.6 million, in “gateway” communities within a 60-mile radius of the park, including Fresno and Madera, according to the National Park Service’s “2016 NPS Visitor Spending Effects Report” on the nation’s 417 national parks and lands managed by the Park Service.

Sequoia National Park came in second with 1.3 million visitors last year who spent an estimated $95.2 million in gateway communities that include Exeter, Visalia, Hanford and Tulare.

As for adjoining Kings Canyon National Park, its 607,500 visitors last year spent about $52.9 million locally.

The combined spending from visitors to the three national parks supported more than 9,000 jobs, which generated more than $300 million in labor income, according to the report issued earlier this month.

“National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning more than $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well,” Chip Jenkins, acting superintendent of Yosemite, said in a press release. “We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.”

The higher spending by park visitors here mirrored the national trend, in which 331 million visitors to all the country’s national parks and Park Service-run land spent more than $18.4 billion in nearby communities on items including fuel, food, beverages, motel rooms, camping supplies and more. That’s the highest amount nationally since researchers who put together the Visitor Spending Effects Report first compiled the data going back to 2012.

“The contribution of this spending to the national economy was 318,000 jobs, $12 billion in labor income,” according to the report summary, which goes on to say that the lodging industry received the biggest portion of this spending, $5.7 billion, followed by bars and restaurants, which took in an estimated $3.7 billion.

National parks in California topped the country in visitor spending last year at more than $2 billion, nearly ten times what national park visitors spent in the No. 2 state, Arkansas, at $203.2 million.

As for where the most spending occurred, Yosemite’s gateway communities ranked seventh, while Sequoia and Kings Canyon didn’t crack the top-10 list.

Topping that list was Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, a 469-mile road maintained by the Park Service as an elongated park offering a scenic drive between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina. It had more than 15.2 million visitors last year that spent an estimated $979.3 million in that region’s gateway communities.

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