Glen Canyon surpasses Zion National Park in visitation, visitor spending

Lake Powell, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Zion National Park has long been considered one of the most popular national parks in the U.S., but in 2017, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area exceeded Zion in number of visitors, visitor spending and economic output.

Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Aug. 4, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Glen Canyon had about 4.6 million visitors in 2017, not much more than Zion’s 4.5 million in the big scheme of things. However, this represents more than twice the visitation for Glen Canyon since 2013, when numbers were approximately 2 million.

National Park Service data was collected by counting the number of people who enter the park each day, according to the 2017 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects Report. If the same person enters the park more than once they are counted as a new person each time.

Beyond just visitation, the report indicates that the difference in visitor spending in the gateway regions – such as Springdale and Page, Arizona – is more substantial, as visitors spent $361 million at Glen Canyon and $251 million at Zion.

Gateway towns reap the majority of the benefits from visitor spending, as people tend to stay, eat and shop in their town.

In a press release from Glen Canyon, officials attribute the increase in popularity to a surge in land-based recreationalists who are interested in hiking and other activities that Glen Canyon has to offer. The park is home to Lake Powell, Escalante, Rainbow Bridge, Lees Ferry and the Horseshoe Bend Overlook.

Horseshoe Bend, which was once a secret local spot, is now a major tourist destination with around 1.5 million visitors per year.

Escalante, Muley Point and Orange Cliffs in Glen Canyon are also seeing an increase in backcountry recreation.

Glen Canyon also contributed $425 million in economic output – the estimated value of produced services and products supported by visitor spending in local gateway areas – placing it at No. 9 out of 417 National Park Service units nationwide in regards to economic benefits. Glen Canyon also supported 5,060 jobs in the area, contributing $137 million in labor income.

“I am really excited to see the numbers in the report confirm that we contribute significantly to the economy and to local communities,” park Superintendent William Shott said in the press release.

Zion’s 4.5 million visitors contributed to a total of $341 million in economic output. The park provided 3,190 jobs and $120 million in labor income.

Though Zion is the third most visited national park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans 469 miles between Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks, saw almost four times the number of visitors and is the most visited location in the National Park System, according to the report.

In this February 2005 file photo, with the North Rim in the background, tourists hike along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz., Feb. 22, 2005 | Associated Press photo by Rick Hossman, St. George News

Grand Canyon National Park is still well ahead of both Zion and Glen Canyon with 6.25 million visitors, $667 million in visitor spending and an economic output of $938 million, making it the second most visited park with the third highest visitor spending and economic output.

Bryce Canyon National Park had 2.6 million visitors who spent $213 million, with $256 million in economic output. Capitol Reef National Park had 1.2 million visitors who spent $81.3 million, with $91.8 million in economic output.

In 2017, 331 million people visited national parks and spent $18.2 billion. The parks contributed $35.8 billion to the national economy. The national parks supported 306,000 jobs and $11.9 billion in labor income.

Utah ranked fifth for national park visitor spending of $1.1 billion, and the parks contributed $1.7 billion in economic output to the state. Utah national parks employed 17,600 jobs, with $547 million in labor income.

Memorial Day Weekend, 2014, shows parking backing up outside of Zion National Park. Springdale, Utah, May 2014 | File photo courtesy of Zion National Park, St. George News

Most of what visitors spend their money on in national park gateway regions in Utah has to do with hotels and restaurants, 34.62 percent and 20.37 percent respectively. Only 6.51 percent was actually spent on recreational industries. Other spending breaks down as follows:

  • 11 percent on gas.
  • 10.17 percent on retail.
  • 8.54 on transportation.
  • 6 percent on groceries.
  • 2.73 percent on camping.

This mirrors the national park visitors’ spending trends nationwide. Around half of all visitor spending is at hotels and restaurants, and visitors spend 9.97 percent on recreational industries.

Just as visitors primarily spend money at hotels and restaurants, these places also provide a lot of jobs. Of the 306,000 jobs national parks produce, 19.74 percent are at restaurants and 16.02 percent are at hotels, while the majority of them, 39.08 percent, are because of secondary effects.  

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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