Travel to U.S. National Parks got a big boost from Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion. The two senators co-chaired a hearing that promoted National Parks as travel destinations and job generators for states and local communities.
“Our National Parks are woven into American culture,” said Klobuchar. “They are on ‘must see’ lists for domestic and international travelers and are icons of America. But these parks are more than beautiful national resources. They are also important economic resources and increasing tourism at National Parks will benefit local economies and help create jobs.”
LeMieux added, “Our national parks showcase the raw beauty of America. By increasing tourism at national parks, we educate generations on the importance of protecting the environment and help communities survive through difficult economic times. Promoting our National Parks as tourist destinations will help us both nationally and abroad.”
The hearing featured testimony from National Park experts, including award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. Burns’ recent documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea is a six-episode series aired on PBS that was filmed over the course of more than six years at various National Parks.
“Even in times of economic distress, the parks are worth promoting, defending, and expanding,” said Ken Burns. “They are good for business, but equally good at providing much-needed, affordable recreation during these hard times.”
At the hearing, the senators highlighted the positive economic impact that National Parks have on local communities. For every dollar spent in the National Parks, another 50 cents is generated in the region. In 2008, tourists made approximately 275 million park visits, accounting for $11.6 billion of spending in gateway communities. Additionally, National Parks create over 230,000 jobs.
Klobuchar and LeMieux questioned panelists about ways to bring more visitors to smaller parks. The senators discussed increasing partnerships with local governments and businesses and improving networking between nearby parks and attractions to help increase tourism.
The senators also stressed the need to promote National Parks to international visitors who provide an economic boost to the U.S. economy. On average, international visitors spend more than $4,000 per person during their visits and present an opportunity for growth. In total, the National Park Service has approximately 80 million acres of land and manages 391 designated federal sites throughout the country.
In addition to Burns, the hearing also featured testimony from:
* Michael Ward, superintendent, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
* Diane Shober, travel and tourism director for the state of Wyoming
* William Shafroth, deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the Department of the Interior
* Scott Bacher, owner, Carlsbad KOA, New Mexico
* Clyde Butcher, photographer, Florida