Report Nov 28, 2006

The U.S. National Park System: An Economic Asset at Risk

Economic Significance Report (1.54 MB)

The U.S. National Park System is an economic asset at risk. The park system generates at least four dollars in value to the public for every tax dollar invested in its annual budget.

Yet, every year the parks suffer an operating shortfall of $800 million, in addition to a massive multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. As a result, the fiscal crisis confronting the national parks continues to deepen and important park functions go without, park infrastructure decays, natural ecosystems are overrun with exotic species, historical treasures are inadequately preserved, and public safety is jeopardized.

The U.S. Congress established and maintains the National Park System to conserve our nation’s most significant lands and landmarks. Yet, the U.S. Congress is jeopardizing this valuable asset by not adequately funding the National Park Service. Although the full value of the park system evades quantification, this report presents hard economic evidence that national parks generate tremendous value to the public.

  • National parks generate more than four dollars in value to the public for every tax dollar invested.
  • National parks support $13.3 billion of local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs.
  • National parks attract businesses and individuals to the local area, resulting in economic growth in areas near parks that is an average of 1 percent per year greater than statewide rates over the past three decades.
  • The benefits of national parks are many and extend well beyond economic values.

In developing the study we conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed 30 experts from academia, the National Park Service and other governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to gain their perspective on the economic role of the National Park System. We determined that capturing the economic importance of national parks requires using three different approaches, each of which illuminates a different perspective. The results are not additive, but rather provide a view on the significance of parks to national, regional, and local stakeholders.

First we use cost-benefit analysis to examine the national economic benefits of the park system relative to its cost to taxpayers. Second, we analyze the economic impact of national parks to the communities that surround them. And finally, we measure economic growth in the regions around parks. All analyses point to the same conclusion, the U.S. National Park System is an asset of tremendous economic value at the national, regional, and local level. Failure to properly manage our parks puts this public asset in jeopardy.