Sequestering Souls

Monetary Value of the National Park System

In a report released by the National Park Service and Michigan State University this month, the monetary worth of National Park Service units to our national economy highlighted the fact that what happens in national parks does not stay in national parks. The year 2011 saw 278.9 million visits to 398 units under the protection of the Service. Of those choosing to spend their vacations at NPS units, they spent 12.95 billion dollars in gateway communities [defined as areas within 60 miles of park boundaries] sustaining 251,600 jobs outside the units.

That’s a lot of large numbers to digest. For a private industry comparison, Walt Disney resorts in central Florida contributes 6%, or 160,000, of the jobs in that area and generates 1.7 billion dollars in money spent outside the resort for lodging, food and the like.

Seems fairly close, but then again, I’ve never been good with numbers. The jobs generated in park gateway communities could employ a city the size of Saint Petersburg, Florida or Fort Wayne, Indiana. If you look at the employment numbers within, Walt Disney outhires the Park Service 3 to 1.  But the Park Service, operating as a nonprofit, relies heavily on 221,000 volunteers as well. If you can do math better than I can, it wouldn’t take you long to realize that both Disney World [just in central Florida] and the National Park Service are about equal in terms of people they rely on both inside and outside the gates to supply their visitors with services and goods. The real difference, number wise, is land. The Park Service oversees 84,000,000 acres that pertain to our national heritage, both natural and cultural.

Intrinsic Value of the National Park System

Assigning a monetary value to the cultural value of those 84,000,000 acres of NPS land is almost equivalent to pricing the best moment of your life. It just doesn’t translate well into numbers. The thousands of stories told in those lands are a unique part of our national fabric, threads tying nature, culture, history, and those who proved themselves to be shapers of our national identity together into a tapestry that is the foundation of our country. All of this serves as the backdrop of our family vacations and adventurous expeditions, our areas of refuge and solitude, where we unwind and escape from our urban creations, and perhaps where we quite often find what we seek. Hidden in the “Are we there yet?”s and official national park maps is our national identity and perhaps even a new-found aspect of our personal identity. More than just a balanced national budget is at stake in the halls of Congress.



“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” –John Muir


A saguaro, maybe around 150 years old, has seen many a family vacation spent. Saguaro National Park, Arizona.


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