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National parks an asset during recession

January 19, 2009

A study by the National Park Service and Michigan State University has shown that the country's national parks are a valuable asset during the current recession, drawing thousands of visitors and propping up local economies.

Visitors to National Park Service sites last year helped support more than 200,000 jobs and spent $11.8 billion in gift shops and nearby businesses such as hotels, restaurants and gas stations, according to the study.

Visitors staying outside of the parks in motels, hotels, cabins and bed-and-breakfasts accounted for 55 percent of the total spending. Sixteen percent of the spending was for gas and transportation, and 14 percent went to souvenirs.

Among the most successful local sites in bolstering the economy were Civil War battlefields, which are major destinations for amateur historians.

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Thirty-five percent of travelers to Washington County said Civil War history was their primary reason for visiting the area, according to a recent tourism study. Visiting friends and family came in second at 17 percent.

According to the National Park Service, Antietam National Battlefield created more than $16.5 million in visitor spending locally in 2007. The battlefield also supported more than 300 jobs.

The C&O Canal National Historical Park also created significant economic impact in 2007, with nearly 3 million visitors and visitor spending of more than $34 million in the region.

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