The value of Olympic National Park on residents and visitors to Washington State and the Olympic Peninsula is amazing. The 8th most-visited National Park in America, which has rainforests, mountains and wild coastlines, inspires wanderlust and a connection to nature, and fuels an entire regions economy. In the once depressed logging counties around the Olympic Peninsula, where jobs vanished faster than spotted owls, a thriving economy is emerging, fueled by wilderness and tourism. While the tourism industry is showing that it can take root in the region as a major industry, the news isn’t all blooming rhododendrons.
A new National Park Service report, released by Olympic National Park officials on April 30th, shows that that the 3.4 million visitors who came to Olympic National Park in 2017, the 6th most popular year for the park, spent roughly $279 million in the communities near the park. That spending is said to be supporting 3,556 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $385 million. While this news is awesome for a region that has struggled to have a sustainable economy over the last 40 years, it isn’t as good as it could be. In fact, the 2017 numbers are trending down.
In 2016, the region had an economic impact of $400 million, meaning that the Olympic Peninsula saw a 4% loss in tourism revenue during 2017. Partially to blame is the wildfires of the region and the needed construction to the park and surrounding roads. The continual washouts in the Elwha region didn’t help either. Hopefully, 2018 will see some gains in tourism revenue for the region, as another 4% loss is not a trend anyone wants to continue. Despite the loss in revenue in the region, Olympic National Park officials are pleased with the news.
“Olympic National Park welcomes visitors from across the country and around the world. We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides. National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well. We appreciate the partnership and support of our local communities and are glad to be able to give back.” ~ Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum
The report, a peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service, shows tourism helped bring in roughly $18.2 billion of direct spending by more than 330 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally; 255,900 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion, far larger than nearly any industry that pollutes the environment.
Of course, the revenue wasn’t spread equally around the communities who saw National Park visitors. Lodging received the highest direct contributions Nationally, with $5.5 billion in economic output to local gateway economies and 49,000 jobs. Restaurants received the next greatest direct contributions with $3.7 billion in economic output to local gateway economies and 60,500 jobs.
3.4 million Olympic National Park visitors spent an estimated $279 million in 2017, or roughly $82 per visitor. This is down from $85 per visitors in 2016.
The 2017 report also went on to clarify the rest of the spending. As stated above, most park visitor spending was for lodging/camping (32.9 percent), followed by food and beverages (27.5 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), souvenirs and other expenses (10.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.0 percent), and local transportation (7.5 percent).
Report authors also produce an interactive tool that enables users to explore visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data. The interactive tool and report are available at the NPS Social Science Program webpage: www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm.
To learn more about national parks in Washington and how the National Park Service works with Washington communities to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to www.nps.gov/Washington.
Discover a Hike a Week through this stunning Olympic National Park Area Guidebook