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Study: Shenandoah National Park supports 1,087 jobs

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A motorist travels along a portion of Skyline Drive south of Dickey Ridge Visitor Center on Thursday. Shenandoah National Park officials recently released visitor data for 2010. Rich Cooley/Daily

Data shows visitors spent $71.8 million locally in 2010

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- A new analysis of the Shenandoah National Park's economic impact in the region shows that $71.8 million in visitor spending supported 1,087 jobs in 2010.

The spending came from 1.25 million visitors, part of a total of 22.7 million visitors to 22 national parks in Virginia.

The peer-reviewed study conducted by Daniel Stynes of Michigan State University for the National Park Service broke down the impact of tourism spending on communities surrounding each of 394 national parks. The study also analyzed park impacts on a state-by-state basis.

The study underscored the prominent role that Shenandoah National Park plays in the tourism economy of Front Royal and neighboring communities.

In a press release accompanying release of the study, park superintendent Martha Bogle hailed the results of the study as proof that "Shenandoah National Park is clean, green fuel for the engine that drives our local economy."

The study listed lodging, restaurants, retail trade and amusement as the businesses most likely to benefit from visitor spending. The study defined local impacts as those falling within a 60-mile radius of the park. The study counted full and part-time jobs in measuring employment impacts and adjusted seasonal positions to an annual basis.

Don LaFever, interim tourism coordinator for Front Royal, said he hoped tourism-dependent businesses will receive a boost this year from the recent designation of Front Royal and Warren County as an official Appalachian Trail Community, a distinction that will be celebrated at a ceremony in April.

"That's going to draw people to Front Royal, plus friends and families that like to meet hikers," LaFever said, adding that the trail "goes right through the heart of Shenandoah National Park."

The park's economic impact also received the attention of the Front Royal Town Council recently when it passed a resolution that said a proposed cut of 9 percent in spending on national parks beginning in Jan. 2013 "can jeopardize tourism to Front Royal and the Shenandoah Valley."

Lodging accounts for 26 percent of all tourism spending in national parks, the largest percentage among the types of businesses listed in the study.

Several people involved in lodging businesses said they agreed with the study's findings about the importance of park spending.

Robert Kaye, co-owner of the Woodward House on Manor Grade on Royal Avenue, estimated 80 percent of the guests in his bed and breakfast are park visitors during the peak of the fall foliage season in late October and early November.

The percentage fluctuates from 30 percent to 50 percent at other times of the year, he said.

"There are very few reasons to come to Front Royal. The park is one of them," Kaye said, adding that the Shenandoah River, golf courses and lush vineyards also attract tourists.

"A lot of people go to Skyline Drive and hike," Kaye said. "It's pretty important to the area, as far as tourism is concerned."

Rose Steinbach, a front desk supervisor at the Quality Inn on Commerce Avenue, said she also notices many hikers among hotel guests.

"We get a lot of people coming in from the trail, and people coming to see Skyline Drive," she said. "We get a lot of foreign people coming from overseas, Europe, Germany."

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