Report: National Park a big economic boost to region

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service reported an $80.4 million economic tourist impact for localities around Shenandoah National Park.

Park service economist Lynne Koontz noted that the study was designed to measure the impact of the park on “localities within a 60-mile radius of the park.”

According to the 2014 report, the park had 1.255 million “recreational visits,” with 1.18 million of those belonging to non-local visitors.

That data is up from a down year in 2013, which itself was an anomaly with the 17-day government shutdown that affected attendance by about 80,000 in October.

However, 2014 also marked the highest year of park visitation since 1.25 million people visited the park in 2010.

The $80.4 million spent by visitors was also higher than the $72.4 million in 2013 and $76 million in 2012.

Park Public Affairs Officer Karen Beck-Herzog said, “We are thrilled to be a vital part of the community. Shenandoah is surrounded by an incredibly rich area.”

The local impact of the park can be seen at restaurants near Skyline Drive.

George McIntyre, owner and operator of the Apple House restaurants, said Skyline Drive and traffic into and out of the park has played a major role in the 52-year history of the Linden location.

“During that whole time, anything that had to do with Skyline Drive and tourism is what’s kept us alive,” McIntyre said. “We are, daily, encountering people from all over the world.”

At the Linden and Front Royal locations, McIntyre said they keep guest registers that contain “responses and … any notes that people want to.” He said they have had many visitors from France, England and even South Africa and Argentina.

McIntyre noted that, although the Apple House remains busy throughout the year, the spring and fall season typically bring the most business.

Beck-Herzog noted, “Weather is a major factor, and when we have great October weather, then that’s really helpful for us.”

Another way the park has sought to boost visitation is through “fee-free” weekend offerings. The last “fee-free” weekend was April 18 and 19 during National Park Week.

McIntyre said, “That was like opening up a flood gate down here” and that travelers were “really out here in strength, in numbers.”

Looking ahead, recreational visits in the first quarter of 2015 are 11 percent higher at 54,082 visitors from where they were at this point last year at 48,118.

With the “Find Your Park” campaign well underway, the park could — weather factors not withstanding — see even higher tourism impact than $80.4 million by the end of this year.

“I think Shenandoah [National Park] is one of the larger attractions to our region,” Beck-Herzog said. “We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the other communities to continue building that number.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com