The National Park Service released their latest economic impact report, which analyzes the economic benefits created by National Parks in the gateway communities that they serve. The low water years at Lake Powell and Lake Mead were nothing short of a wipeout that cost their local economies over $300 million in two years. Anyone interested in how the National Parks are serving their surrounding communities should spend some time looking at the data.
A common trend across the board is that most parks were showing modest growth leading up to 2020 and the COVID shutdowns. What happens after 2020 is where it gets interesting. A shining outlier is that Zion National Park went from $344 million in economic output in 2019 to $947 million in 2021 and $961 million in 2022. This growth for Zion NP is nothing short of stunning.
It is equally stunning that in the same period of time that Zion NP was adding $1.2 billion of economic growth to its region, Glen Canyon NRA showed a $207 million dollar decline.
We now know that the low-water levels cost the area surrounding Lake Powell hundreds of millions of dollars in direct economic benefit. Lake Powell is only 2 short hours east of Zion National Park, and it isn’t inconceivable that the gateway communities around Lake Powell should have been able to experience growth similar to what Zion experienced. So, we shouldn’t just settle for comparing against the pre-COVID baseline. Low water years devastated the areas around Lake Powell.
We’ve been arguing that the economic cost of low water levels was devastating the local communities that rely on recreation form Lake Powell. Lake Mead also saw a $114 million dollar decline in 2022. While Congress was passing $4 billion in subsidies to provide relief to the agricultural sector that was suffering from the impact of drought, outdoor recreation was largely forgotten. It should be noted that Lake Mead has secured funding to improve infrastructure for low water levels, and these projects are moving forward through the planning process. Glen Canyon NRA has a lot of work to do to dig out of this hole.
We believe that the hundreds of millions of dollars of lost economic activity validates our efforts to advocate aggressively for better management of the water resources in these reservoirs in a way that accounts for the economic impacts of recreation along with the other important stakeholders. We will continue to do what we can to be strong unified voice for growing and improving the economic benefits of these lakes for the communities that they support. And while we recognize that the outdoor recreation experience is justifiable on its own terms, the economic impact makes it clear that recreation can no longer simply just be ignored.
We need the areas surrounding these lakes to thrive – just like what is happening with other parks in the system.
The National Park service announced recently plans for improvement to many facilities at Lake Powell.
We also know that that the main concession contracts at Lake Powell are going through a renewal process.
To address these developments, we have prepared a survey that we believe would provide helpful information to NPS managers as they explore ways to improve the recreation experience on the lake.
We invite our Fill Lake Powell supporters to provide their feedback, so we can be part of the solution to improve the recreation experience at Lake Powell and ensure that the communities around Lake Powell can thrive.