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Utah among top 5 for visitor spending at national parks

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is among the top five states in the country for raking in the dollars on visitor spending to national parks and monuments, with $1.1 billion spent last year.

A new report by the National Park Service notes that more than 15 million visitors generated a cumulative benefit to the Utah economy of $1.6 billion.

California earned the top spot in the country for visitor spending at $1.9 billion, followed by Alaska and North Carolina at $1.3 billion. Utah tied with Arizona at the $1.1 billion mark.

National Park Service
National Park Service
Aaron Thorup, National Park Service

"From Golden Spike to Canyonlands, the 13 national park units in Utah attract visitors from within the state, across the country and around the world," said the service's Intermountain Region director, Sue Masica.

Utah's federal attractions are Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks; Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge and Timpanogos Cave national monuments; Golden Spike National Historic Site and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Those national park units, according to the report compiled by economists with the U.S. Geological Survey and park service, supported 17,596 jobs across the state.

"This is a great reminder that Mother Nature played favorites in Utah and that our five national parks are an amazing calling card for those of us who have chosen to live here and the millions of visitors who come from all over the world," said Vicki Varela, managing director of tourism, film and global branding with the Utah Office of Tourism.

Varela added that the numbers speak to the growing interest of the America public to go out and explore not only the national parks, but Utah's monuments, state parks and federal lands.

"They are a precious part of our quality of life and our tourism economy," she said.

The report notes that Glen Canyon National Recreation Area came in No. 9 among the top 15 parks for visitor spending at $361 million. The overall economic output was $425 million in 2017.

The report, which also tracked trends, shows that Glen Canyon had $115 million in visitor spending in 2012.

Pam Rice, the recreation area's assistant superintendent of external affairs, said Glen Canyon experienced an 83 percent increase in visitation from 2015 to 2017 — and all of that came from land-based recreationists interested in hiking or other activities.

"People are discovering that at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, only 13 percent of the 1.25 million acres is the lake," she said.

Rice added that the recreation area is working to expand Hite — an access point on the northern end of the lake — into an adventure base for guided outdoor activities.

"There are a lot of opportunities for incredible hiking."

The recreation area is planning to expand its trail system and is partnering with the city of Page, Arizona, Rice added.

"I was really excited to see the numbers (in the report) that we are contributing that much to the local community," she said.

Nationally, the report shows that there was $18.2 billion of direct spending by more than 300 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion.

Lodging registered as the highest direct benefit of park visitation nationally, with $5.5 billion in economic output impacting gateway community economies, including 49,000 jobs.