By Sally Voth
Shenandoah National Park doesn't just enrich the region's culture -- it also enriches its coffers.
More than 1.2 million people visited the park in 2011, and spent nearly $74 million in the surrounding communities, according to a news release from the park.
The Natural Resource Report, available on the National Park Service's website at www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/docs/NPSSystemEstimates2011.pdf, states that 278.9 million visitors went to the national parks in 2011 and spent $12.95 billion "in local gateway regions," described as being within 60 miles of the parks.
Those who stayed overnight outside the parks made up nearly 55 percent of that spending. Of that, 48 percent of revenue went to lodging and meals, 21 percent for gas and transportation, 10 percent for recreation and entertainment, 8 percent for groceries and 13 percent for retail purchases, according to the report.
"The contribution of this park visitor spending to the national economy amounted to 251,600 jobs, $9.34 billion in labor income, and $16.50 billion in value added," the report states.
In the case of Shenandoah National Park, there were 282,888 overnight stays in 2011, according to the report. Of the $73.9 million spent by visitors, $65.1 million was spent by visitors from outside the area.
Non-local visitors to the park also support 938 jobs, according to the report.
Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley described Shenandoah National Park as a valued regional partner in attracting tourists to the area. The northern entrance to the park sees 400,000-500,000 cars pass through annually, he said.
"Part of the struggle for us, like many of the communities, is finding ways to get people to stop, stay and spend some money here locally," Stanley said.
Some additional restaurants and hotel facilities have been added north of Front Royal to do just that, he said. But, more needs to be done, Stanley acknowledged.
"We need to enhance the other opportunities to get people to stay and do other things like get on the river, go to Andy Guest [Shenandoah River State] Park, play golf at one of our six golf courses," he said. "The park is a tremendous asset. I think we don't do a good enough job either recognizing it or taking advantage of it."
While tourism to Shenandoah National Park does help the Woodward House on Manor Grade, a bed-and-breakfast at 413 S. Royal Ave., Front Royal, it's not the business's sole source of guests, said co-owner Bob Kaye.
"I would say it depends on what time of the year," he said Tuesday. "Now, most people come here on their own. I would say in the summertime, especially in spring when everything is blooming, is the height of it. You get a mixture after that -- some hikers, older people like to drive up there, take a little time, go to dinner."
Kaye pointed out there are other attractions in the region that bring in overnight guests. These include the Shenandoah River and five area golf courses, he said.
"I would say [the park] is one of our draws," Kaye said.
William Antonelli and his son, Steven, said it's hard to quantify how many of the customers patronizing their burger and custard joint, Spelunker's, at 116 South St., Front Royal, are coming from the national park.
"We definitely have a significant boost in our business in summertime," the senior Antonelli said. "We're not sure how much of that is coming from the Skyline Drive, and how much is ... coming locally from people who are just deciding if the weather's nice that we feel like an ice cream cone, a burger."
Steven Antonelli said he'll occasionally see an obvious hiker come into their establishment. Many customers have been tubing or canoeing on the river.
"When I'm handed a soaking wet $20 bill, it's pretty easy to tell they've been on the water," he said. "We do see some of the foreign people, especially in summertime."
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com