Old Faithful

According to a study released by Michigan State University more than 3 million visitors in 2010 spent more than $334 million in Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding communities.

A study released by the National Park Service on Tuesday confirmed what we all suspected: Yellowstone National Park brings in millions of dollars and thousands of jobs into the local economies that edge the 3,472-square-mile park.

The peer-reviewed study, by Michigan State University, found that 3.64 million visitors in 2010 spent more than $334 million in Yellowstone and the area around it, supporting nearly 4,900 jobs.

“We’re not always in a position to really point to some solid figures of that economic impact,” said Al Nash, a spokesman for the park. “(But) when you look at these kinds of figures and realize that every visitor means over $90 to the area economy, it reinforces the significant role that visitors to the park play.”
The study covered figures for 2010 because the university analyzes data from nearly 400 national parks, which is “kind of hard to do” in a short time period, Nash said. Local numbers were broken out from $12 billion spent by 281 million visitors to the country’s national parks.

Most of the spending locally — about 52 percent — went toward businesses in the lodging, food and beverage industries. Retail saw 29 percent of the dollars spent and entertainment, groceries, gas and local transportation split the rest of the pot.

While none of the numbers were further broken down by gate or locality, Gardiner resident Chuck Curtis says those numbers are about right. He owns four businesses in the town hosting the park’s northern entrance and serves as vice president of the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce. He estimates that park visitors make up about 70 percent of his business.

“Everybody’s very busy in the summertime,” Curtis said. “That’s when you make your living.”

Donna Rowland, executive director of the Cooke City Chamber of Commerce, echoed his sentiments. Since Cooke City, the northeastern entrance to the park, built a visitors center about two years ago, about four times as many people have stopped in town than in years past, she said. The number of visitors last summer jumped a couple thousand to about 16,000 visitors. And the town is working on a museum and interpretive pathway to entice people to stay a little longer and learn more about the area.

An employee of the chamber in West Yellowstone, which hosts the park’s western entrance, said it’s not unusual to have 800 to 1,000 people pass through the doors each day from mid-June through the end of August.

Winter traffic starts to slow down as spring approaches and many businesses around the entrances are starting to gear up for the summer season.

Curtis was in Bozeman on Tuesday picking up some paint for the interior of the K-Bar, one of his businesses. These in-between seasons are the time to renovate, clean and get ready because park employees start to come back in April.

Then in May, all the families and tours start coming, he said.

“As soon as school is out it’s like a bell goes off, and all the families start coming,” Curtis said.

Jason Bacaj may be reached at jasonb@dailychronicle.com or 582-2635.

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