Caverns contribute $33M to local economy
Many parks dealing with low staff numbers
Carlsbad Caverns National Park contributed more than $33 million to the local economy in 2016, according to a newly released report.
Visitors spent $30.1 million in communities around the park, supporting 444 local jobs. The cumulative impact to the area's economy was $33.8 million.
Report researchers defined local communities as those within 60 miles of the park.
"National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning more than $10 for every $1 invested, and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well," Caverns superintendent Doug Neighbor said in a news release. "We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back to local communities.”
Most visitor spending was on lodging (31.2 percent). That was followed by food and beverage spending (27.2 percent), gasoline (11.7 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent), souvenirs and other expenses (9.7 percent), local transportation (7.4 percent) and camping fees (2.5 percent).
Visitor spending at the Caverns was up $7.5 million from 2012.
"We're not complaining," said Caverns spokeswoman Valerie Gohlke. "We're happy."
Nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park reported $11.2 million in visitor spending, a $900,000 increase from last year.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park spokeswoman Elizabeth Jackson said high visitation numbers are rolling over into this year, too.
Jackson said March of 2017 showed a 118 percent increase in visitation over March 2016.
"We've seen a significant increase in all areas of the park, but especially in our camping and backcountry use," Jackson said.
Jackson said they're happy to see more visitors at the park, but a recent staffing shortage exacerbated by a federal hiring freeze has made life busy for Jackson and the park's one employee.
The park normally has four permanent employees. Jackson said three of them were recently promoted to positions at other parks.
The park's two seasonal employees, which Jackson said they usually bring in for the peak summer season, just arrived last week.
She said that should alleviate some of the pressure on the park's permanent employee.
"We've maintained our same level of service," Jackson said. "We have not had the ability to do the programming we would like to."
The federal hiring freeze ended April 12.
National Park Service spokesman Tom Crosson said many parks across the nation experienced staffing shortages as a result of the freeze.
However, now that the freeze has been lifted, parks are beginning to hire again.
"Parks have been doing some work to overcome the hiring shortages at their parks," he said.
The federal government is still being asked to hire sparingly and with care. Crosson said NPS issued "guidance" on hiring full time staff on Monday.
Increase across the board
The National Park Service as a whole boasted a similar increase in visitorship and economic impact.
Visitors spent $18.4 billion in communities near national parks; up $3.7 billion from 2012 and $1.5 billion from 2015.
Park officials have largely credited the National Park Service's Centennial promotions and celebrations with the increase in visitor numbers and visitor spending.
Gohlke said NPS's "Every Kid in a Park" program, which grants free entry to the nation's fourth graders, President Barack Obama's visits to two national parks in 2016 and the "Find Your Park" campaign all likely contributed as well.
Social media and the ability to share photos and media of visits made to National Parks may also have an impact, Gohlke said.
Maddy Hayden may be reached at 575-628-5512, firstname.lastname@example.org and @Maddy_J_Hayden on Twitter.