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National park saw fewer visitors in 2013

Tim Smith, tourism coordinator for Front Royal Visitors Center, holds a brochure for Shenandoah National Park inside the visitor center on East Main Street on Tuesday. The area and Shenandoah National Park saw a decrease in visitors last year due to the 16-day 2013 shutdown of national parks. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

Recent numbers released by the National Park Service revealed how the 16-day October 2013 government shutdown impacted tourism revenue, both within Shenandoah National Park and surrounding localities.

A total of 1.14 million individuals visited the park in 2013. They spent $72.4 million in local communities. That marked a decrease from 2012, when 1.2 million visited the park and spent $74 million in nearby communities, according to the National Park Service.

Karen Beck-Herzog, public affairs officer, said October is the park's busiest month, meaning the shutdown hurt that much more.

"I've been here for about a decade, and we had actually seen an increase in the number of visitors, and then a leveling off of visitation," Beck-Herzog said.

That increase started around 2008, she said, before leveling off at about 1.2 million visitors.

The money spent in local communities was mostly directed toward lodging, restaurants and fuel, as well as admissions and souvenirs.

Tim Smith, tourism coordinator for Warren County, said he and his team worked hard to prevent the government shutdown from having too detrimental an impact on the country's tourism revenue.

"We started a short campaign trying to tell people to still plan on coming to Front Royal, because there are a lot of other things to do other than the park," he said. "We saw a little bit of a decrease, but nothing significant. We put the extra effort in to promote the area, and I think we did OK with that."

Smith said a majority of tourists visit the county in order to find out how to get to the park.

"What we're trying to do is get them to spend some time here, walk downtown and check out the town as well as visiting the park," Smith said.

The park has an impact in other ways. Jenna French, director of tourism and marketing for Shenandoah County, said that people will often travel the park and then stop by towns like Woodstock to visit restaurants and other attractions as a side trip.

The government shutdown actually benefited the county, though. People looking to tour the park ended up visiting the county, instead, French said.

"While some other localities saw a big decline as a result of the shutdown, for us it worked out as an alternative: people couldn't go to the park, so they were going to the county to drive its scenic roads and see some of its attractions," French said.

So far this year, the park has seen some dips in numbers due to an extra cold January and rainy April, Beck-Herzog said. The same holds true for Warren County. But both Beck-Herzog and Smith were confident that tourism would pick up with decent summer and fall weather.

"Weather has a lot to do with it," Smith said. "But we have such a nice week coming up and it's the peak vacation season, and the peak fall season is coming up with the leaves changing, so we should be OK."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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