Tourism to National Parks of Southern West Virginia creates over $70 million in economic benefits

Monongahela National Forest (USDA Forest Service photo by Kelly Bridges)

GLEN JEAN, WV (WOAY) – A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 1,356,700 visitors to New River Gorge National River, Bluestone National Scenic River, and Gauley River National Recreation Area spent $60,400,000 in communities near the three parks in 2019.

That spending supported 846 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economies of $70,100,000. The parks span four counties in southern West Virginia:  Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh, and Summers.

“The three national parks of Southern West Virginia once again welcomed over 1.3 million visitors from across the country and around the world last year,” said Superintendent Lizzie Watts. “We are delighted to share the stories of these special places with so many people. National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in our local economies as well. We greatly appreciate our many partnerships and the continued support of our neighbors. We are happy to be a part of helping to sustain so many local communities.”

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the NPS. The report shows $21 billion of direct spending by more than 327 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 340,500 jobs nationally. The cumulative benefit to the US economy was $41.7 billion. Visitor spending increased by $800 million from 2018 to 2019 and the overall effect on the U.S economy grew by $1.6 billion.

Lodging expenses account for the largest share of visitor spending, about $7 billion in 2019. Food expenses are the second largest spending area and visitors spent $4 billion in restaurants and another $1.4 billion at grocery and convenience stores.

Visitor spending on lodging supported more than 60,000 jobs and more than 64,000 jobs in restaurants. Visitor spending in the recreation industries supported more than 29,000 jobs and spending in retail supported 21,000 jobs.

Report authors also produce an interactive tool that enables users to explore visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data. The interactive tool and report are available at the NPS Social Science Program webpage:

To learn more about national parks in West Virginia and how the National Park Service works with West Virginia communities to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to

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