Survey: Cumberland Gap NHP visitors bring $44 million to area

CUMBERLAND GAP NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, Tenn. (WVLT) - Everyday we hear about signs of the struggling economy.

Now, there is a positive story about an East Tennessee park not only surviving, but helping other areas thrive.

In 2011, more than 828,000 visitors passed through the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. That's great for the park, but it's also good for the surrounding towns and communities with the stores, motels, where people spend their money.

"It's a tremendous asset to our area," said Edwin Robertson.

Many visit the park for the 85 miles of hiking and running trails, or simply the beautiful view.

When they come, they staying in Middlesboro, Kentucky, or eating at Gondolier in Harrogate.

"You start looking at what visitors are doing: buying gas, going out to eat, staying in motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts," said Ranger Carol Borneman.

That's what a survey conducted at Michigan State University looked at.

They researched how the park's visitors impacted local businesses.

In 2011, those 828,947 visitors spent more than $44 million within a 60-mile radius of the park.

"We knew we were generating that kind of money, and especially on a cold day like today, it really brings a sense of warmth to the area," said Borneman.

Gondolier's co-owner Edwin Robertson has lived in Claiborne County since the park opened, and can see its impact by all the out-of-state license plates in the parking lot.

"It is a day destination. We'd love to see it become an overnight or multi-night destination to help the whole area," said Robertson.

He still considers Cumberland Gap a hidden gem, and hopes even more people come to discover it.

The survey also showed visitor spending supported 602 jobs in the area.

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