A new report says visitors to Alaska’s national parks and preserves spent $1.2 billion in nearby communities last year.
That spending, the report says, produced almost 16,500 jobs in Alaska. The peer-reviewed research was conducted by National Park Service economists.
“It’s really good for economic reports like this to come out every now and then,” said Jim Stratton, a former director of Alaska state parks who has advocated for conservation of national parks. “Because it reminds us that the wilds of Alaska have more value than just to extract them and turn them into, you know, gold bars or gasoline, and that Alaska makes a lot of money off the natural resources in place.”
Resource extraction is generally off-limits in national parks. On other federal lands, Alaska’s congressional delegation often advocates for mining and oil drilling. They say the state needs the jobs and the country needs the minerals and fuel.
About 2 million people went to Alaska areas managed by the National Park Service last year. Their spending is down from the pre-pandemic high of $1.5 billion.
Glacier Bay National Park saw more than half a million visitors last year, making it the most visited of all the Park Service areas in Alaska. But most of the travelers were on cruise ships, and the report authors found they spent less than $500 apiece on things like lodging and recreation associated with their Glacier Bay visit. Denali saw slightly fewer visitors but they spent twice as much.
At the other end of the Alaska national park spectrum, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, is recorded as having just 179 visitors, with each one spending almost $2,000 on average. (The report actually counts “recreation visits” rather than individuals.)
The report shows Alaska is in 6th place for park visitor spending, tied with Arizona. The study, though, relied on different methodologies for Alaska.
“Most visitors are on extended trips to Alaska, making it difficult to allocate expenses to a specific park visit,” the report says.