For my family, and many across the country, as the snow melts and the first signs of spring are coming to Montana, we are starting to plan trips to visit our national parks. For some, spring can’t come too soon, as chances to visit the parks were cut short last fall due to the shutdown of the federal government in October.
A new study by the National Park Service (NPS) demonstrates the damage the shutdown inflicted on communities that are the gateways to these natural treasures, offering visitors lodging, meals, outdoor gear, and other amenities. Glacier National Park was one of 45 parks whose neighboring communities saw a drop in visitor spending of over $2 million in October 2013. Compared to October averages, visitor spending decreased by $2.6 million, significantly less than the normal $4.7 million. The number of visitors was down by 55%.
Unlike Montana, six states used state funds to keep national parks in their borders open. These states saw visitor spending in gateway communities ten times greater than the amount states’ spent to keep the parks open during the month of October.
Montanans are proud to share our state’s remarkable natural beauty with the rest of the country, and tourism is a vital industry in many of our communities. Federal funds greatly benefit our state, helping to generate even more revenue for our local communities. As we saw this past October, the absence of these federal dollars can create a loss even deeper than the face value. Because of their importance to communities in Montana, Congress should not jeopardize these federal funds again.
Not only is keeping the parks open to families like mine wanting to experience Montana’s natural beauty, it’s important to the families and communities who depend on them for their livelihood.