America's National Parks Are Valued at More Than $92 Billion

Yosemite National Park
••• Yosemite National Park in California. Kraig Becker

A groundbreaking new study conducted by the National Park Foundation examines America's national parks in an effort to quantify their total economic value. The results of that research delivered some eye-popping numbers, giving us a better idea of just how valuable these iconic places truly are. 

The Study

The study was conducted by Dr. John Loomis and Research Associate Michelle Haefele from Colorado State University, who worked in conjunction with Dr. Linda Bilmes of the Harvard Kennedy School.

The trio attempted to put a "total economic value" (TEV) on the national parks, which uses cost-benefit analysis to try to determine the value that people derive from a natural resource. In this case, the natural resources are the parks themselves. 

So, just how much are the national parks worth according to the study? The total estimated value of the parks, and National Park Service programs, is an astounding $92 billion. That number includes not only the 59 national parks themselves, but the dozens of national monuments, battlefields, historical sites, and other units that fall under the umbrella of the NPS. It also encompasses important programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the National Natural Landmarks Program. Much of the information was gathered as part of a larger investigation that seeks to quantify the value of ecosystem management, intellectual property creation, education and other aspects that can have an impact on "value."

“This study demonstrates the enormous value that the public places in the work of the National Park Service, even beyond the iconic and incredible places in our care,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “By affirming our commitment to the programs that help us preserve American culture and history through a place, this study provides great context for the direction the National Park Service will move in our second century to tell a more complete and diverse story of who we are and what we value as a nation.“ 

The enormous economic value of the parks wasn't the only interesting stat to come from this project. In speaking with the individuals surveyed while gathering the data, the researchers learned that 95% of the American public felt that protecting that national parks and other important areas for future generations was an important endeavor. Most of those people were also willing to put their money where their mouth was, with 80% saying that they would be willing to pay higher taxes if it meant ensuring that the parks were fully funded and protect moving forward. 

The $92 billion value is independent of the National Park Foundation's Visitor Spending Effects report that was released back in 2013. That study was conducted to determine the economic impact of the national parks on surrounding communities and came to the conclusion that $14.6 billion was spent annually in so-called gateway communities, which is defined as those within 60 miles of the park. On top of that, it was estimated that roughly 238,000 jobs were created because of the parks as well, further extending the economic impact. Those numbers are likely to have grown over the past few years, however, as the parks have seen record numbers of visitors in 2014 and 2015.

 

This latest study has already gone through peer-review, which is standard procedure in the academic world. It will also be submitted for publication in academic journals as well, where it will no doubt be examined further. According to reports, however, the results are consistent with other government studies, which also analyze proposed regulations and the impact of the loss of natural resources as well. 

While this report puts a concrete number on the value of the national parks, it probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to travelers. The parks have been popular destinations for outdoor lovers for decades, and since they continue to set attendance records on a regular basis, it doesn't seem like that will end anytime soon. Still, it is interesting to see just how valuable the parks actually are, as it is clear that their impact stretches far and wide.