Debbie Doyle: The National Parks and the Value of History

tags: American Historical Association, National Park Service, AHA Today, heritage



Debbie Ann Doyle is Coordinator: Committees & Meetings at the American Historical Association.

Heritage tourism is big business. A recent report on the economic impact of the National Park Service (NPS) estimates that 279 million visits to the parks in 2011 generated $30 billion in economic activity and supported 252,000 jobs, both in the park service and in communities surrounding the parks.

While budget-minded legislators may see historic sites and preservation as luxuries that might be trimmed from an austerity budget, cultural resources offer a good return on investment. National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis notes that the parks contribute $10 to the economy for every $1 in tax money invested in the National Park Service, which “makes good stewardship sense and good business sense.”

The NPS study does not break out the percentage of economic activity generated by visitors to historic sites, but it likely comprises a significant proportion. According to Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, a 2012 report by the Organization of American Historians (OAH), history is a major part of the visitor experience at two-thirds of the 398 national park units. National Park Service visitor data for 2012 suggests that approximately 70 million of 282 trips to national parks were to monuments, historic sites, military parks, and battlefields. These figures do not include tourism generated by the 49 National Heritage Areas, public/private partnerships affiliated with NPS that preserve and interpret historic landscapes....



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