Economist: Smokies closure costs NC, Tenn $33M

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Press release from Western Carolina University, shared Oct. 11.

Moriah Miller holds a large antler as an Elk Bugle Corps volunteer tells her and other visitors more about the elk herd in June. Volunteers in the Cataloochee Valley, part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, help with educational programs and crowd control to ease stress on visitors, the elk and the valley. The park is now closed due to a partial federal government shutdown. Colby Rabon/Carolina Public Press

Moriah Miller holds a large antler as an Elk Bugle Corps volunteer tells her and other visitors more about the elk herd in June. Volunteers in the Cataloochee Valley, part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, help with educational programs and crowd control to ease stress on visitors, the elk and the valley. The park is now closed due to a partial federal government shutdown. Colby Rabon/Carolina Public Press

CULLOWHEE – A Western Carolina University economist estimates that the first 10 days of the partial shutdown of the federal government cost more than $33 million in lost visitor spending in the 18 North Carolina and Tennessee counties located within 60 miles of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The shutdown prompting the closure of popular park campgrounds and visitor centers has resulted in more than $12 million in lost wages for workers, $1.8 million in lost state taxes and $1 million in lost local taxes for municipalities and counties, the WCU study indicates.

Steve Morse, director of WCU’s Hospitality and Tourism Program, shared the results of his analysis of economic impact of the closure of Great Smoky Mountains National Park during a joint legislative luncheon hosted by the Gatlinburg (Tenn.) Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Gatlinburg Hospitality Association on Friday, Oct. 11.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, and October is one of the busiest months in terms of park visitation,” Morse said. “Every day that the park is closed means that 36,912 visitors are not visiting the park and are not spending money in the local economy.”

The lack of visitors and the lost revenue will continue until the partial government shutdown is over or until park facilities are reopened, he said.

Morse based his analysis on previous economic impact studies and data on visitor spending in the park completed on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service in 2011.

The study focuses on “recreation users” of the park – campers, hikers, cyclists, recreational vehicle travelers and others who visit the park to participate in outdoor recreational activities; it does not include those who are passing through the park. Although the park is officially “closed,” U.S. Highway 441 between Cherokee and Gatlinburg remains open.

Morse examined the economic impact of the closure on the area within 60 miles of the park. That area encompasses 10 counties in North Carolina – Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Swain and Yancey – and eight counties in Tennessee – Blount, Cocke, Greene, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe and Sevier.

According to the study, each day that the park is closed:

* 26,577 visitors are lost per day in Tennessee, and 10,335 visitors are lost per day in North Carolina. In the 10 days since the closure began, 369,120 people who would have visited the park were unable to do so (265,767 in Tennessee and 103,354 in North Carolina).

* $3,314,232 per day is not being spent by visitors in the local economy ($2.38 million in Tennessee and $927,985 in North Carolina). Since Oct. 1, that equates to $33,142,324 in total lost visitor spending ($23.86 million in Tennessee and $9.27 million in North Carolina).

* $1,226,266 per day is lost in worker wages and paychecks ($882,911 in Tennessee and $343,354 in North Carolina). Since Oct. 1, that totals $12,262,660 in lost worker income ($8.82 million in Tennessee and $3.43 million in North Carolina).

* $181,343 is lost per day in state taxes ($130,567 in Tennessee and $50,776 in North Carolina). That adds up to $1,813,429 in lost state taxes during the first ten days of October ($1.30 million in Tennessee and $507,760 in North Carolina).

* $102,423 is lost per day in local taxes in Tennessee and North Carolina cities and counties within 60 miles of the park ($73,745 in Tennessee and $28,679 in North Carolina). During the first 10 days of the shutdown, that means $1,024,235 in lost local taxes for cities and counties ($737,449 in Tennessee and $286,786 in North Carolina).

“Tourism is big business for the areas that surround the national park, and we are beginning to see some of the unintended consequences of the government shutdown,” said Morse, former director of the Tourism Institute at the University of Tennessee, who joined the WCU College of Business faculty this summer.

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About the Author

Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the founder, director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 279-0949 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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