Visitors to the summit of Haleakala watch the sunset. They and others like them spend millions in Hawaii.

Parks deliver
nature’s bounty

National parks mean
revenues and jobs for
nearby communities

A new study of the country's national parks concludes that they aren't just rich in natural beauty, they're also an economic boon.

The National Parks Conservation Association, which released the study, said it shows that visitors to the nation's national parks spent $10.6 billion a year, directly supporting 212,000 jobs. Visitors to California parks spent $1.1 billion, the most of any state, said Daniel J. Stynes, the Michigan State economics professor who conducted the research.

The association said the study underlined the importance of federal funding to preserve parks.

"These places are the soul of America, and the heart of many local economies," said NPCA Pacific Regional Director Courtney Cuff. "If they are to stay that way we must invest in protecting them."

The study used National Park Service 2001 annual visitation numbers at the nation's 348 national parks, and visitor surveys conducted by Stynes and the Park Service. It measured spending on hotel and lodge reservations, campground fees, restaurants, gas, groceries, souvenirs and other expenses related to visiting the parks, but did not include admission fees.

Hawaii's national parks also are popular with visitors, with more than 1.3 million people visiting the massive Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, and more than 1.4 million people going to see the Haleakala National Park on Maui and the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu. The 182-acre Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island had 402,071 visitors in 2001, making it fourth in popularity.

Visitors to Haleakala spent $84.5 million, while visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes spent $82 million and visitors to the Arizona memorial spent $47.7 million, according to the study.

More recent data indicates that visits to Hawaii's national parks increased in 2002.

Some 21.8 percent of Hawaii's U.S. mainland visitors did some backpacking, camping and hiking while they were here, according to a separate 2001 state report. The state has earmarked $1 million in hotel room taxes for improving state parks and trails used by visitors.

The findings of the parks study were released as President Bush signed an interior appropriations bill that Cuff said "doesn't even cover the cost of inflation for care of these national parks."

The federal government budgeted $1.6 billion this year for operating expenses including staffing, monitoring species, maintaining trails, and interpreting cultural and historic sites at parks nationwide, according to the Park Service.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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