MURFREEBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – National parks pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Tennessee’s economy in 2021. A new report showed 11 million park visitors spent an estimated $870 million in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands in Tennessee.
According to the National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park brought in $1.3 billion last year for Tennessee and North Carolina. It was $29.3 million from Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, $16.9 million from Fort Donelson National Battlefield-Tennessee, and $23.8 million from Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro.
“We’ve had an explosion of visitation, even just in the last couple of years kind of post COVID 19,” said National Park Spokesperson Dana Soehn. “I think people were just seeking safe places to recreate and being outdoors provided that opportunity where you didn’t have to think about distancing and droplets and all of those things that have consumed our lives for the last couple of years. And it gave that sense of freedom, a place for people to come and enjoy that space with their families on their own.”
Soehn said in 2021, the GSMNP was busier than ever before. They had more than 14 million visits and that represented a 57% increase in visitation over the last decade. National park spending for visitors in Tennessee last year included $271 million on lodging, $166 million on restaurants, and $121 million on gas. But, the increase in visitors came with some concerns.
“We have a lot of concern about visitor safety. We have a lot of concern about the congestion and the traffic flow and also the impact on resources in the most congested areas,” said Soehn. “The Smokies has about 850 miles of trails, 380 miles of scenic roadways, plenty of places to explore. But we have a lot of people that concentrate use at about seven iconic locations in the Smokies.”
According to the report, the expenditures from National park visitors supported a total of 11,800 jobs, $454 million in labor income, $747 million in value added, and $1.3 billion in economic output in the Tennessee economy.