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Even with Yellowstone National Park fully closed for almost two months last year, visitors spent more than $444 million in the park and its gateway towns in 2020, according to a new report from the National Park Service.

A recent economic analysis conducted by the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey show that last year national parks in the U.S. garnered more than $14.5 billion in direct spending, supporting nearly a quarter of a million jobs nationwide.

In 2020, 3.8 million Yellowstone visitors supported 6,110 jobs and $560 million in economic output to gateway economies around the park like West Yellowstone and Gardiner, according to the report.

The bulk of tourist dollars, 31%, was spent on hotels and lodgings in and around Yellowstone — which does not include camping — and restaurants ranked second at 16.5% of tourists’ spending.

With fewer visitors last year, Yellowstone faced a decline in overall spending in 2020, with $444 million, the lowest year-by-year spending since 2014. Visitors spent $507 million in 2019 and $513 million in 2018.

The study’s findings mirror what Montana’s tourism industry saw overall in 2020.

About 11.1 million people traveled to Montana in 2020, roughly 1.5 million fewer than in 2019, according to a report by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

Tourists in 2019 spent an estimated $3.76 billion in the state, compared to $3.15 billion in 2020.

Yellowstone National Park saw a 5% decrease in the number of visitors in 2020 compared to 2019. A little more than 3.8 million people went to the park last year, compared to roughly 4 million the year before.

Much of that decrease could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the park for several months in the spring.

Yellowstone closed in late March due to the pandemic. The Wyoming gates reopened in mid-May and the three Montana entrances reopened June 1.

That reduced visitation numbers early in the year. Although the park saw visitors through the summer and into the fall — with both September and October seeing new records for visitation — it wasn’t enough to make up for the spring.

Already, park officials are gearing up for a busy summer. April was record-setting and May logged nearly half a million visitors for the month, an 11% jump from May 2019.

The spring puts the park well ahead of other busy years. So far, it has recorded 658,513 visits — more than 60,000 ahead of the count at this time in 2016, which was the park’s busiest year on record with 4.25 million visits.

Yellowstone isn’t alone in an expected increase in visitation. Both Glacier National Park and Grand Teton National Park saw an increase in the number of visitors, and Montana’s state parks saw a 20% increase in traffic for the first quarter of this year.

In Grand Teton National Park, 3.3 million park visitors spent an estimated $598 million in gateway towns last year, supported a total of 8,180 jobs, $261 million in labor income and $754 million in economic output.

In Glacier National Park, 1.7 million visitors spent an estimated $204 million which supported a total of 3,080 jobs and $287 million in economic output in local gateway economies.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or

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