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Last week’s announcement by the National Park Service(NPS) regarding 2015 economic benefit and impacts of NPS sites across the country underscores the vibrant relationship between the Blue Ridge Parkway and its neighboring communities. The report highlights that 15 million visitors to the Parkway in 2015 spent $952.1 million in communities near the park. This spending supported 15,337 jobs across the region and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $1.3 billion.
These results reflect the original vision of the Parkway as an economic engine for the southern Appalachian region. The parkway was conceived during the Great Depression as a large-scale public works project to create jobs and today it connects 29 counties across North Carolina and Virginia; creating a regional identity that continues to contribute to economic vitality. Tourism industry leaders across the region regularly cite the Blue Ridge Parkway as a key attraction in driving tourism business to their area.
“We are so grateful to the community leaders that recognized the importance of routing the Parkway through Asheville,” said Marla Tambellini, Vice President of Marketing and Deputy Director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a testament to the importance of the Parkway and the robust tourism economy we enjoy today.” National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy as well, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service.
This investment is reflected along the Parkway more than in any other park in the National Park Service system. Given the linear nature of the Parkway and its passage through many mountain communities, the park experience for many visitors includes a visit to one or more of these communities. “The communities along the Parkway extend the park visitor experience,” said Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods. “We are fortunate to have strong, mutually supportive relationships with neighbor communities as the experiences are truly interdependent. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, we renew our commitment to these relationships.”
According to the 2015 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (31.1 percent) followed by food and beverages (20.2 percent), gas and oil (11.8 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent) and souvenirs and other expenses (9.8 percent).
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. Report authors this year also produced an interactive tool. Users can explore current year 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:go.nps.gov/vse. The report includes information for visitor spending by park and by state.