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Public Lands' Value for Virginia Economy Cited

Public lands, such as  Shenandoah National Park, are worth $1.5 billion a year to Virginia. (Shenandoah National Park)
Public lands, such as Shenandoah National Park, are worth $1.5 billion a year to Virginia. (Shenandoah National Park)
July 17, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- National Parks boost Virginia economic output by about $1.5 billion a year, according to a new congressional report.

Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee have released data for each state on the local impact of public land. They found the 27 million annual visitors to Virginia national parks and other public lands boosted the average income of each rural resident by more than $4,000.

David Sligh, conservation director for Wild Virginia, said the national parks, forests and monuments improve quality of life, which brings economic growth.

"A lot of businesses make sighting decisions in part on where they can attract folks,” Sligh said. "And it's not unusual when you see real estate listings emphasize great natural features."

The Interior Department, with the support of conservative allies in Congress, is reviewing 27 national monuments. Some argue past presidents used the monument rules to put too much land under federal control. Others have even argued for some public lands to be sold off.

New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich is the ranking Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee. He said every dollar budgeted for the National Park Service brings $10 in to local economies.

"We have seen tourism go up. We've seen visitation go up. We've seen local gross receipts and lodgers' taxes because of these monuments,” Heinrich said. "To turn that back would be an enormous mistake."

Virginia has a large number of historic sites, many protected by public lands designation. Sligh said that's a clear benefit for places such as Charlottesville, where he lives.

"Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and James Monroe were all from this very area,” he said. "It's not only a big draw for the folks that live here, but again, it brings a lot of people in."

In 2016, more than 300 million people visited the national parks around the U.S., creating more than 300,000 jobs.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA