WASHINGTON (AP) - The government shutdown last fall resulted in nearly 8 million fewer visitors to national parks, costing the parks and surrounding communities an estimated $414 million in lost visitor spending, the Interior Department said Monday.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the 16-day shutdown was a striking reminder that national parks are a powerful economic engine for local economies across the country.
"The very unfortunate government shutdown of October had one silver-lining: Communities realized just how much benefit they get from the parks being open," Jewell said in a conference call with reporters. "Let's hope we never have to go there again."
Information about the shutdown's effect on national parks came as Interior released a report indicating that national parks generated $26.8 billion in economic activity in 2012 and supported 243,000 jobs.
Nearly 283 million people visited 369 national parks that year, spending $14.7 billion within 60 miles of a park. That spending generated about $26.75 billion in economic activity, the report said.
"National parks like Yellowstone and Gettysburg are places of unimaginable beauty and powerful history that help tell America's story," Jewell said. At the same time, parks "help propel our nation's economy" as "the lifeblood of the hotels, restaurants, outfitters and other local businesses" that depend on tourism, she said.
Five states, including California and Arizona, lost more than $20 million each during the government shutdown last October, which occurred after Congress and the president deadlocked over a plan to pay for the new health care law. North Carolina, Wyoming and Virginia also lost at least $20 million during the shutdown, which came as fall foliage reached a peak in many states.
National parks became a political symbol during the shutdown as the two parties bickered over who was to blame for closing the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty and other landmarks.
Six states received permission to reopen national parks within their borders using state money. Those states generated nearly $10 in visitor spending for every dollar spent, the report said. Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Tennessee all reopened parks.
A bill is pending in Congress to reimburse those states.
During the shutdown, Republicans criticized the Obama administration for closing access to the open-air World War II Memorial in Washington. A crowd that included Republican lawmakers converged on the memorial at one point, pushing past barriers to protest the site's closure.
Jewell and other officials defended placement of barricades at the World War II site, saying that all but a dozen workers at the National Mall had been furloughed. The Park Service allowed veterans and their families to visit the memorial.
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