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Arches National Park sees record visitation

Arches National Park
Arches National Park

Last year visitors lined up across the country to enter the National Park System more than 297 million times. That’s up 25 percent from 2020. Those visitors spent around $20.5 billion within 60 miles of those parks. That spending is up 41 percent.

This comes from a new report by the park service. According to the authors, much of that increase in visitation and spending has to do with recovering from a pandemic year. In 2020 less park facilities were open.

Moab certainly counts as a national park border community. Near the entrance to Arches this year, tourists waited to enter. Visitation has increased so much that Arches started a reservation system.

"Especially the first half of 2021 was very, very strong, the strongest we've ever been. So we're about almost 37% higher than the average trend," said Chris Baird.

Chris Baird is the strategic Development Director for Grand county.

"I guess to sum it up, you know, since about September of 2020, we've really been seeing record breaking growth."

A portion of tourist tax revenue is earmarked in the county. For example, 63 percent of money collected from a hotel tax must be spent on visitor impact mitigation. It goes to things like search and rescue and waste disposal.

But Baird says that the money spent from national park visitors doesn’t just go to supporting their stay. It also significantly funds services for locals.

"We've only had to raise our general operating property tax once in the last 15 years. And that's, you know, due to having been able to rely on strong growth and the sales taxes," said Baird.

He says at least 50 percent of the county's services are funded by tourists.

Meanwhile, Utah as a whole had over 14 million visitors to its five national parks. They spent a whopping $1.6 billion in surrounding communities, supported 23,000 jobs and added $822 million in labor income.

The study says that nationally, the lodging sector saw the highest direct effects of visitor spending. Next was restaurants.

And this all might be underestimate. The agency used a new method to survey visitors at Zion. Their results show visitors spent more time and money during their trips than previously thought.

This story is from KZMU in Moab.