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National Parks Make Big Contribution to Local Economy

Dec. 18, 2008 – The territory's national parks are big contributors to the local economy, according to a study recently released by the National Park Service.
"There is a significant impact to having park units in the Virgin Islands," V.I. National Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove said.
The territory has five national park facilities. In addition to V.I. National Park on St. John, which also includes Hassel Island off St. Thomas, St. John is home to Coral Reef National Monument. Both St. John parks and the Hassel Island section are managed by the V.I. National Park staff.
St. Croix has Christiansted National Historic Site, Buck Island Reef National Monument and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, all managed out of the same office.
According to the National Park Service, which is the umbrella federal organization for all 391 national park facilities around the United States and territories, 275.6 million people visited all national parks in 2007 and spent a total of $11.8 billion.
"Most of them needed a place to stay overnight. They all needed meals each day and most of them bought something to take home and remind them of their experience. When you add that up you get a sense of the economic impact national parks have across the country — and it’s significant," National Park Service Director Mary Bomar said in a news release.
According to the Park Service study done by Michigan State University in conjunction with the Park Service's Social Science Division, V.I. National Park had 571,382 visitors in 2007. A total of 102,308 stayed overnight in the park. They spent $69.2 million. The park's presence on St. John supports 1,653 jobs.
Visitor counts were not determined for Coral Reef National Monument.
Christiansted National Historic Site had 101,522 visitors. No overnight stays on St. Croix were attributed to the park. Spending attributed to those visits accounted for $4.5 million. The park generated 77 jobs.
Buck Island got 46,303 visitors, with 3,920 overnight stays tied to the visit to Buck Island. Those visitors spent $3.5 million. The park's presence accounted for 67 jobs.
There are no visitor statistics for Salt River.
The National Park Service presence counts for more on St. John than it does on St. Croix.
"In St. Croix, we're just another cog in the wheel," Joel Tutein, who serves as superintendent at all St. Croix national parks, said.
The park's presence on St. Croix doesn't cost local taxpayers a dime. Tutein said the federal government pays all the parks bills, including salaries for its employees.
Tutein attributes some of the parks' lack of recognition with the fact they don't have a friends group to advocate for them. He said he's now trying to get a friends group similar to the one at V.I. National Park underway.
"It's a matter of promoting ourselves a little better," he said.
On St. John, the park takes up more than half of the island's land mass and, along with the national monument, takes up a considerable amount of undersea area. Unlike St. Croix, where the parks are confined to three discrete areas, the St. John park sprawls across considerable real estate. To get from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay on any of the main roads, people must pass through the park.
Hardgrove pointed out that V.I. National Park also gets a significant number of visitors from day trippers.
"It's important to the cruise ships," he said, adding that many cruise ship passengers want to visit the park.
While he agreed with the study's assessment on the number of visitors to the park, Hardgrove thought it may be a little low on the number of dollars spent and the number of jobs supported by the park.
Joe Kessler, president of Friends of V.I. National Park, also thought the St. John park numbers were low. He said he thinks the number of visitors stands at around a million. He also suggested that the study didn't take into account the higher costs in the territory as compared to the mainland when calculating the amount of money spent.
Kessler said that, unlike St. Croix visitors, the bulk of the people who visit St. John come because of the park.
"And St. John's natural beauty is because of the park," Kessler said.
The Park Service study is filled with little tidbits such as the fact that Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited park in the system. It gets 17.3 million visitors a year, mainly because it's a drive through park close to large population centers. Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first national park thanks to a designation by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, received 3.1 million visitors.

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