A report issued by the National Park Service this week illuminated some of the impacts of last October’s government shutdown on national parks and their surrounding communities.
The report compared the number of visitors to national parks and visitor spending in “gateway communities” within 60 miles of the parks in October 2013 with average figures for the preceding three years. There were 30,000 fewer visits to Mesa Verde National Park than average, and an estimated loss of $3 million in visitor spending.
The government shutdown occurred when the U.S. House and Senate were unable to agree on a resolution to fund the government because of Republican insistence on delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This caused Mesa Verde and most national parks across the country to close Oct. 1-16.
“The government shutdown happened at the worst possible time, the peak of our international visitation,” said local tourism director Heather Hughes.
According to Hughes, annual visitation at Mesa Verde National Park was down six percent in 2013 compared with 2012. Hughes said visitors to the Cortez Welcome Center also dipped in October by nearly 500 people when compared with the same month in 2012 and that the number of visitors to the Anasazi Heritage Center were off by nearly 2,000.
The shutdown report was released in conjunction with figures on the economic impact of the National Park system in 2012. The report found that in 2012 more than 5.8 million people visited Colorado’s national parks, spending $347.4 million in the surrounding communities and directly supporting almost 4,991 jobs.
“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,” said Mesa Verde superintendent Cliff Spencer.
Nationwide, there were 7.88 million fewer park visits in October, and a estimated loss of $414 million in spending in surrounding communities.
“From Rocky Mountain National Park to Mesa Verde National Park to the Colorado National Monument, our public lands form the very foundation of the Centennial State,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, said in a statement Monday. “This report underscores the destructive effect that partisan politics can have on these national treasures.”
Udall is the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on national parks.
Some parks, such as Rocky Mountain National Park, were able to open with state funding near the end of the shutdown. However, the states have not been reimbursed for this funding, though bills doing so were introduced in the Senate and the House last year and supported by Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.
Tobie Baker of The Cortez Journal contributed to this story.