Archived Outdoors

Smokies, Parkway spared drop in park visitor spending

Cars progress slowly through Cades Cove on a busy day at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. File photo Cars progress slowly through Cades Cove on a busy day at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. File photo

Visitor spending in national park communities during 2020 was just over two-thirds the amount spent in 2019, but parks in Western North Carolina were spared that drop, according to a new report from the National Park Service. Together, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway accounted for more than 10% of visits to national park units in 2020. 

The report showed that nationwide, 237 million visitors spent $14.5 billion in communities within 60 miles of a national park in 2020, down from $21 million in 2019. Visitors in 2020 supported 234,000 jobs, of which 194,400 were located within 50 miles of a park. Visitor spending in 2020 resulted in a $28.6 billion benefit to the nation’s economy. 

Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park accounted for about 5 percent of total visitation to the country’s 423 national park units last year and 6.9 percent of total visitor spending in parkside communities. Despite COVID-related closures, the $1 billion Smokies visitors spent in 2020 was more than the $953 million spent in 2018 and just under the $1.1 billion recorded in 2019. Lodging was the largest spending category, accounting for 33% of total spending and followed by restaurants at 18.7%

In the Blue Ridge Parkway — the busiest sections of which are located in Western North Carolina — visitor spending was even with that recorded in 2019, with the NPS reporting $1.1 billion both years. Lodging accounted for 43.8% of that amount and restaurants for 21.3%. Parkway visitation accounted for 5.9% of total NPS visits.

The annual peer-reviewed economics report was prepared by economists from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service. An interactive tool that offers information broken down by state and park is available at www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm

— By Holly Kays, outdoors editor

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