Yosemite tourism creates economic benefit

Visitors spend more than $379 million in communities surrounding the park

Tiffany TuellMarch 13, 2013 

More than $379 million was spent by more than four million visitors in the communities surrounding Yosemite National Park in 2011, according to a spending analysis report by Michigan State University. That spending helped support 5,057 jobs in communities such as Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Mariposa, Midpines, Sonora and Mammoth Lakes.

"Yosemite National Park is a wonderful place to visit and view awe-inspiring scenery," said Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. "We attract visitors from across the U.S. and around the world who come here to experience the park and then spend time and money enjoying the services provided by our neighboring communities and getting to know this spectacular part of the country. The National Park Service is proud to have been entrusted with the care of America's most treasured places and delighted that the visitors we welcome generate significant contributions to the local, state and national economies."

Park visitors took a small dip in 2012 with 3,996,017 visitors compared to the 4,098,648 visitors in 2011. Scott Gediman, assistant superintendent for public and legislative affairs for Yosemite, said the difference might be due to 2011 being a huge waterfall year, which attracts visitors, but said since the difference was less than 5,000 visitors, the lower number could also be due to the economy and fuel prices.

However Gediman is optimistic about this year's tourism season.

"Yosemite National Park is a big draw for visitors from the U.S. and abroad," Gediman said. "With the economy improving to a certain extent, that means more people are traveling and out feeling is that the more visitors that visit Yosemite, the better. We love to have people visit the park -- it belongs to the people ... and it's also a benefit to the surrounding communities such as Oakhurst."

South gate entrance numbers -- the entrance on Highway 41 above Oakhurst -- were 445,426 in 2011 and 446,456 in 2012. Gediman says the park averages about three visitors per vehicle, which would result in 1,336,278 visitors utilizing the south gate in 2011 and 1,339,368 utilizing the south gate in 2012.

Dan Cunning, Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau CEO, said he was pleased to learn the Yosemite recognizes the economic partnership with the gateway communities. However he also has some concerns for the future.

"The economics work in both directions, I just hope that the possible implementation of changes brought about by the Merced River Plan will not negatively impact the economics of the gateways," Cunning said. "All parties need to maintain the experience of the visitor, ensuring that time spent in the park and surrounding communities meets all expectations and implants the memories that will bring about many return visits."

Some of the changes proposed by the Merced River Plan that Cunning is concerned about include the possible removal of amenities such as the ice skating rink, biking, rafting, horseback riding and the use of swimming pools.

"(This) makes for a much more restrictive experience," Cunning said. "Limiting access or being faced with higher entrance fees also would be detrimental to the guest, but also to the economics of the gateways."

However Gediman feels the changes won't affect tourism.

"The plan isn't to discourage or encourage (visitors) but to protect the river and make infrastructure changes to make a better visitor experience by improving traffic flow and reducing traffic congestion," Gediman said. "We feel that people come to Yosemite National Park to enjoy the natural beauty ... Visitor activities are certainly part of the experience, but we feel that our job is to manage the park and the commercial activities are part of the experience but are not the primary purpose of Yosemite National Park."

The analysis by Michigan State, which studied all national parks, not just Yosemite, showed that in 2011, $13 billion was spent by 279 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of all national parks. That visitor spending at national parks across the country had a $30 billion impact on the entire U.S. economy and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide.

According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food and beverage service (63%) followed by recreation and entertainment (17%), other retail (11%), transportation and fuel (7%) and wholesale and manufacturing (2%).

To download the report visit nature.nps.gov/socialscience/products.cfm#MGM and click on Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation 2011. The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

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