Study: $3 million lost during Mesa Verde shutdown

30,000 fewer visitors to national park, federal report says

Mesa Verde National Park saw a dropoff in tourism that it blamed on the government shutdown. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

Mesa Verde National Park saw a dropoff in tourism that it blamed on the government shutdown.

A report issued by the National Park Service this week illuminated some of the impacts of last October's government shutdown on national parks and their surrounding communities.

The report compared the number of visitors to national parks and visitor spending in "gateway communities" within 60 miles of the parks in October 2013 with average figures for the preceding three years. There were 30,000 fewer visits to Mesa Verde National Park than average, and an estimated loss of $3 million in visitor spending.

The government shutdown occurred when the U.S. House and Senate were unable to agree on a resolution to fund the government because of Republican insistence on delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This caused Mesa Verde and most national parks across the country to close Oct. 1-16.

"We definitely saw and felt the impact, especially in the first week of the closure," Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, said. "We talked with individuals who said they planned around going to Mesa Verde, and tried to give them other options and keep them in the community."

Nationwide, there were 7.88 million fewer park visits in October, and a estimated loss of $414 million in spending in surrounding communities.

"From Rocky Mountain National Park to Mesa Verde National Park to the Colorado National Monument, our public lands form the very foundation of the Centennial State," Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, said in a statement Monday. "This report underscores the destructive effect that partisan politics can have on these national treasures."

Udall is the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on national parks.

Some parks, such as Rocky Mountain National Park, were able to open with state funding near the end of the shutdown. However, the states have not been reimbursed for this funding, though bills doing so were introduced in the Senate and the House last year and supported by Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

The shutdown report was released in conjunction with figures on the economic impact of the National Park system in 2012. The report found that in 2012 more than 5.8 million people visited Colorado's national parks, spending $347.4 million in the surrounding communities and directly supporting almost 4,991 jobs.

"National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy - returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service - and it's a big factor in our local economy as well," Cliff Spencer, superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park, said in a statement on Monday. "We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities."

Katie Fiegenbaum is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at kfiegenbaum@durangoherald.com.