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Article published Mar 4, 2013
Olympic National Park tops for state visits, report shows
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — A recently released report compiling national park visitor and spending data from 2011 shows Olympic National Park to be the most visited of nine National Park Service-managed sites in the state.

The results of the report, released last week, came as no surprise to tourism experts across the North Olympic Peninsula.

Diane Schostak, executive director of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau, said in an email that Olympic National Park “is the anchor to our tourism economy here.”

“Every hotel, bed-and-breakfast, restaurant and retailer knows the value of the park as an economic draw and tourism as economic engine on the Olympic Peninsula,” she wrote last week.

The report picked out park visitation and spending trends for national parks across the country and broke down those figures for more than 360 individual sites managed by the park service.

Nationally, the report showed that 279 million visitors generated $13 billion in direct spending in communities within 60 miles of a National Park Service-managed area and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide.

In Washington state, the data show 7 million people visited to the nine NPS-managed areas analyzed in the report spent $286 million in communities surrounding the areas and supported 4,137 jobs across the state.

The other sites include Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, San Juan Islands National Historical Park, and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

Olympic National Park saw close to 3 million visitors in 2011, comprising almost half of all the visitors to NPS-managed areas in Washington, the report said.

Those visitors, in turn, spent $115 million in the communities surrounding the park and supported 1,497 local jobs.

For comparison, Mount Rainier National Park, the second-most visited park in the study, saw just more than 1 million visitors spending roughly $33 million in surrounding communities.

Russ Veenema, executive director of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, said interest in Olympic National Park has stayed relatively steadys and even increased a little during the economic downturn.

“National park visits are notoriously very cost-effective,” he said in an interview last week.

The Hurricane Ridge area of the park and its surrounding trails is consistently one of most-asked- about places when tourists contact the Port Angeles Information Center, which is managed by the chamber, Veenema said.

“The park is huge with respect to being a tourism generator, for not only Port Angeles but for the Peninsula,” Veenema said.

The park also is a popular request among international visitors, who want to know the best places to see within the park's 1,442 square miles, Veenema said.

Shelli Robb-Kahler, director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, also cited international visitors as the type of tourist most interested in Olympic National Park.

“It's probably the No. 1 thing that is specifically [asked about] by foreign visitors,” she said.

Robb-Kahler noted renewed interest because of the ongoing Elhwa River dams removal and restoration project.

On the West End, Marcia Bingham, customer service director for the Forks Chamber of Commerce, said Olympic National Park joins the Twilight series of books and movies as the biggest attractions for Forks visitors.

“If they come for one, they go see the other,” Bingham said.

Bingham said the city's unique location in relation to the park makes the Forks Visitor Information Center a popular stop for any U.S. Highway 101 travelers seeking information about the park's beaches, hikes and rainforest.

“We are fortunate to be the gateway to the park here in Forks, and we value that relationship and promote it,” Bingham said.

The naturally varied areas of the park also are a popular choice for tourists visiting the North Olympic Peninsula via Port Townsend, said Christina Pivarnik, that city's marketing director.

“The wild, rugged beauty of Olympic National Park is a huge draw,” Pivarnik said.

Pivarnik said she often promotes Port Townsend as a base camp of sorts for visitors wanting to enjoy the park, adding that Port Townsend Visitor Information Center staff and volunteers suggest the park as one of the places to see while tourists are on the Peninsula.

“We are thrilled to be in such close proximity to the park,” Pivarnik said.

The tourism and economic impact report can be viewed in PDF format here http://tinyurl.com/NPSImpacts.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

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