HARRISON, Ar. – National parks like the Buffalo River and Ozark Riverways don’t only serve as weekend getaways, they also pump millions into the economies around them.
According to a new report from the National Parks Service, nationally protected ares in Missouri and Arkansas were visited more than six-million times in 2015. Those visits resulted in an economic impact of more than half a billion dollars.
.One of the most popular parks this time of year can be found just south of Harrison, Arkansas.
“It’s a theme park that everyone can afford,” says Harrison Convention and Visitors Bureau director, Matt Bell, “all you have to do is get there.”
One of Bell’s primary focuses is putting the Buffalo National River in the public eye.
“The upper end to lower end is floatable right now, with this occasional rain that we’re getting,” he says. ”We actually hope for rain Monday through Thursday and sunshine on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
According to the new NPS report, the Buffalo River was visited 1.4-million times in 2015, resulting in an economic output of more than $72-million.
Across the state line, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways was visited more than 1.2-million times with an impact upwards of $60-million. Wilson’s Creek Battlefield saw 161,000 visits and an monetary output of $12-million.
The report also breaks down visitor spending nationally: most park visitor spending was for lodging (31.1-percent), followed by food and beverages (20.2-percent), gas (11.8-percent), admissions (10.2-percent) and other expenses (9.8-percent).
“It’s an alternative source of incomes,” says Caven Clark, public information officer for the Buffalo National River, “that would otherwise not be available to the community.”
Clark says attendance has been climbing in recent years – in 2015 visitation was up more than 100,000 people over 2014 – and he expects the trend to continue.
“Part of that is because it’s the centennial of the National Parks Service,” he says, “people that maybe have not made an effort to get out are now making an effort.”
“The amazing thing is the number of jobs that are actually created by bringing those tourism dollars to the area,” says Bell, “and for me, that’s tremendous.”
More than 7-thousand jobs in both states can be directly tied to national parks, according to the new report.