WASHINGTON -- Last October's 16-day government shutdown cut the number of visitors to national parks by nearly 7.9 million, according to a report issued by the Department of the Interior Monday.
That drop in visitors resulted in an estimated loss of $414 million in spending in what are known as "gateway regions" -- the towns just outside of national parks where people buy gas and supplies, eat at restaurants and stay in hotels.
The report found that the communities near 45 of the country's parks experienced a loss of more than $2 million each. Five states -- Arizona, California, North Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming -- experienced a projected loss of more than $20 million each in October visitor spending, according to the report.
"The senseless shutdown cost communities nearly half a billion dollars," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on a call with reporters. "Let's hope we never have to go there again."
The report compared the visitor figures and economic impact of park tourism for October 2013 with the October averages of the previous three years, 2010 through 2012.
"October is a very important month in terms of visitation, particularly in the southern-tier parks," said National Park Service director Jon Jarvis, noting that parks in Arizona and Utah are especially popular in October. "A lot of gateway communities rely on that season."
The findings arrived alongside a separate Department of the Interior report on overall park attendance and economic effects for 2012. It found that national parks drew more than 282 million visitors that year and accounted for $26.7 billion in economic activity. Of that total, $14.7 billion was spent in "gateway" regions. The parks also sustained 243,000 jobs around the country.
The department said it plans to issue its report on 2013's totals by early summer.
Jewell said the figures in the reports show the important role that parks play in local economies.
"The economic reports produced annually are really important tools for us to use to make the case for why support for the parks is an important investment for the American people," said Jewell. She noted that congressional funding for parks has declined in recent years when adjusted for inflation. She also noted that there is a backlog in maintenance needs for the parks that totals $11 billion.
"Parks are great investments in local communities," said Jewell. "For every dollar Congress spends, the parks produce more than $10 in economic [benefit] … That's a very strong return on investment."