National Parks Rake in Big Bucks

ALASKA: Outdoor playgrounds pull $100 million into state economy

Paula Dobbyn / Anchorage Daily News / November 26, 2003

National parks in Alaska are a tourist magnet that generate more than $100 million a year in economic benefits, according to parks advocate Jim Stratton, citing a new study by Michigan State University.

Last year, 2.1 million people visited Alaska-based national parks, said Stratton, regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonpartisan advocacy group for national parks. According to the Michigan State study, visitors to Denali, Glacier Bay and other Alaska national parks and monuments produced $72.4 million in sales and income from the nearly 2,000 jobs they directly created, said Stratton, who was state parks director under Gov. Tony Knowles.

The total economic impact of national park tourism in 2001 was nearly $101 million by conservative estimates, said Stratton, in lunchtime remarks Tuesday to the Anchorage Rotary.

Alaska contains two-thirds of total national park land in the country, some 54 million acres. And in a resource-dependent state like Alaska, national parks often take a beating from politicians, property rights advocates, pro-development boosters and others. Stratton alluded to it in his opening remarks.

"They've been a battleground for some that think resisting federal land management is almost a sport," said Stratton, drawing smiles from some in the audience.

But national parks equate to a "strong shot in the arm," especially for nearby communities that produce goods and services for visitors and park employees, he said.

In Seward, for example, about 90,000 passengers in 2000 boarded day-cruise boats that toured nearby Kenai Fjords National Park. At $100 a ticket for a day-long trip, that translates into $9 million in visitor spending, he said. Another 55,000 people took half-day tours, adding another $4 million to the total, Stratton said.

He noted that in 1975, five years before Kenai Fjords was created, the Seward City Council passed a resolution condemning the potential lockup of the land. The council rescinded the resolution 10 years later after reviewing economic trends. In 1985, 55,000 people visited Kenai Fjords. By 1993, the number jumped to 208,000 -- a 278 percent increase.

Those statistics come from a 2001 study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Stratton noted.

Eric Downey, vice president of marketing for Denali Lodges, said it's a no-brainer that national parks are economic engines.

"It shouldn't be surprising to anyone," said Downey, adding that his job is "100 percent derived from people who visit Denali."

Although Anchorage is at least a couple of hours' drive from the nearest national park, the city still reaps economic rewards because it serves as a transportation hub for visitors, he said.

"Everyone in Anchorage benefits from Denali and Kenai Fjords," he said.

Creating the national park system was the best idea America has ever had, said Stratton, quoting acclaimed author Wallace Stegner. But parks need to be funded better. Although Alaska has more national park land than any other state, it gets only about 3 percent of National Park Service funding, Stratton said.

"We're always in a deficit mode," said Marcia Blaszak, the agency's acting regional director in Alaska.

Stratton urged the public to contribute to a campaign his group is running to boost financial support for national parks. Although Congress, in the 2004 budget, approved a $55 million increase for the Park Service, it doesn't cover the cost of inflation or the new security responsibilities brought on by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said.

Daily News reporter Paula Dobbyn can be reached at or 257-4317.


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