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Shutdown bonanza: States reaped $10 for every $1 spent to keep parks open

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Congress,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Government Shutdown,Spending,National Park Service,National Parks

Six states that paid Uncle Sam $2 million to keep 14 popular national parks open during the federal shutdown last year bagged $20 million in visitor spending they would have lost, a colossal investment success, according to the National Park Service.

“Visitor spending by each park more than offset the total cost paid by the state to keep the parks open during the remainder of the shutdown and eliminated the uncertainty of lost NPS visitor spending to local gateway businesses,” said the park service at the back of a report decrying the 16-day shutdown.

“Overall, each dollar funded by the six states was estimated to have generated an additional $10 in visitor spending,” added the report.

That is virtually identical to the return on typical federal spending on the parks, said the National Parks Conservation Association. “With nearly 300 million annual visitors that generate $10 in economic benefits for every dollar invested, national parks are economic generators,” said the group.

When the shutdown hit, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Tennessee paid to keep their big parks open for some of the 16 days. Utah was most aggressive, spending $999,432 to keep nine parks, including Bryce Canyon and Zion, open for six days. NPS estimated that visitors spent $9.9 million inside the park and surrounding areas.

The report details a $414 million loss to the 401-park system in visitor spending during the shutdown. Visits were down 7.8 million in October, which normally accounts for only 8 percent of yearly traffic to national parks.

But the report also suggests that park visitors might not have cancelled trips and instead travelled to areas near closed parks — and spent freely. “It is possible that part of the decline in October 2013 visitor spending was not ‘lost’ to gateway communities, but was simply shifted in time or to substitute, non-NPS sites,” said the report titled, “Effects of the October 2013 Government Shutdown on National Park Service Visitor Spending in Gateway Communities.”

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.