By Matt Zajechowski
Few would argue with the notion that U.S. National Parks are national treasures. In so many ways, these beloved lands enrich our lives, uphold our values and define our country. They are the epitome of priceless. In fact, some consider it offensive even to speak of objective value when speaking of the parks. But that doesn’t mean it’s a wholly unproductive exercise.
Using recently released data from a 2015 study conducted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, along with economic reports from the National Park Service, we’ve determined a fascinating way to frame the objective value of our national parks. We’ve found a way to put some numbers to our treasure, in a respectful way that is less about speculating and more about spectacle! In doing so, we’ve come to appreciate the parks more than ever.
Land Value and Economic Impact
When considering the objective value of our national parks, there are two basic things at play: the land value and the economic impact.
The land value is fairly straight forward, and available for each of the 48 contiguous United States, thanks to rigorous work done by William Larson, senior economist at the Federal Housing Finance Agency. To calculate the land value of given parks we multiplied the established area of that park, in acres, by the average value of an acre in the park’s home state. In the few cases when parks extended over state lines and occupied two or more states, we analyzed detailed maps of the parks and established approximate percentages of total parkland that resides in each state.
The economic impact is represented by a more dynamic data set, compiled by the National Park Service to establish the many ways our parks contribute to state and national economies. This data includes things like jobs supported, labor income and visitor spending.
As you’ll find, many of the numbers are fascinating, and it’s fun to make comparisons from state to state. For example, California’s national parkland is worth $239 billion (by far the highest value) and supports more than 25,800 jobs, while North Carolina’s national parkland is worth just $578 million but supports more than 20,000 jobs.
To learn more, explore the graphic below!
Matt Zajechowski is a content manager at Digital Third Coast. He has a passion for traveling and exploring the U.S. National Parks, having visited over 30 National Parks. He is also a stern advocate for the National Parks Conservation Association in his spare time, volunteering whenever he can. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.