Jul 8, 2022 - Things to Do

Virginia makes bank from national parks

🏕 National Park visitor spending, 2021
Data: National Park Service; Note: Delaware does not include any National Parks that collect visitor data; Map: Axios Visuals

More than 22 million people — roughly the entire population of Florida — visited Virginia State Parks in 2021 and spent a record $1.3 billion in the surrounding communities, according to a new report from the National Parks Service.

Driving the news: The pandemic pushed people outdoors and in search of virus-free fun, which translated into record visitation and revenue for the state’s national parks and local economies that depend on them.

Of note: Only three other states — California, North Carolina and Utah — saw a bigger economic boon from their national parks than the Old Dominion last year.

By the numbers: Virginia’s national parks support an estimated 18,000 jobs and contribute a total of $1.9 billion to the Virginia economy, according to the report.

  • The largest share of park spending was on lodging, at $463 million, followed by restaurants ($295 million) and gas ($148 million).
Wild ponies swim across the Assateague Channel during the 93rd annual Pony Swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 25, 2018 in Chincoteague, Virginia. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Wild ponies swim across the Assateague Channel. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Zoom in: The Blue Ridge Parkway, shared with North Carolina, is the most visited national park in the country, according to the report, and also in Virginia.

  • Blue Ridge Parkway saw 15.9 million visitors, who spent $1.3 billion, in 2021.
  • Colonial National Historical Park (Jamestown and Yorktown) followed, seeing 3.1 million visitors, who spent $337 million last year.
  • And Assateague Island National Seashore (the ponies!) welcomed 2.7 million park visitors.

The intrigue: The biggest national park locally, Richmond National Battlefield Park (“the center of Confederate manufacturing”), actually saw a drop in visitor spending last year, down to $9.9 million — the lowest level since 2013.

💭 Karri’s thought bubble: All this positive visitor spending is all well and good, but I long for those early pandemic national park stories of people behaving like dum-dums and having to be helicoptered out of parks thanks to poor shoe choices.


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