America’s national parks and monuments are worth celebrating for their unique beauty—and for their impact on our country’s economy.

Last year’s National Park Centennial inspired millions of Americans to find their park, and sparked a national conversation about the enormous benefits of our country’s national parks and monuments. Last week, the National Park Service turned 101—and its work is more valuable than ever for our nation’s health, wealth and image abroad.

“America’s best idea” occupies 83 million acres of national park land in the U.S. (an area three times the size of England), and supports local economies in every corner of the country. In 2016, the centennial year, 331 million park visitors spent an estimated $18.4 billion, particularly in the local gateway regions within 60 miles of U.S. national parks and monuments, supporting more than 318,000 jobs, and generating nearly $35 billion for the U.S. economy.

It’s also worth noting that more international visitors than ever are flocking to U.S. national parks and monuments—and leaving a major economic footprint on the communities around them. Long-haul overseas travelers, particularly from the UK, China, Germany, Australia and France, are increasingly attracted to our parks. In 2015, more than 13.6 million overseas travelers stopped at a U.S. national park or monument during their trips, up 33.4 percent from 2012—and that number is expected to swell to 14.6 million in 2017. That’s great news for gateway regions, because overseas travelers spend more (an average of $4,360 per person per trip) and stay longer (an average of 18 nights per trip).

Even better: the jobs created by all this national park visitor spending are basically non-exportable. As my boss Roger Dow said last year, “there’s only one Yellowstone, after all.” You can’t outsource a Yellowstone tour guide or lodge employee any more than you can outsource Yellowstone itself—and that’s great for gateway regions, many of which are rural and most in need of jobs.  

So, I encourage you: take a day, find your park, and see America. It’ll be good for your health, great for your relationships, a fantastic education outside the classroom for your kids, and you’ll be supporting one of our country’s greatest natural—and economic—treasures for years to come. 

U.S. Travel Association

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