Idaho made $37M last year from National Park lands, but it’s still 11th-lowest earner

Visitors to the National Park Service spent more than $20 billion in 2018 and added $40.1 billion to the country’s economy, according to a recent NPS report. But only a small fraction of that money changed hands in Idaho, data shows.

While Idaho has no national parks of its own (1% of Yellowstone extends into Idaho, but the bulk of the park is in Montana and Wyoming), it has a handful of national monuments, reserves and history sites: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve near Arco; City of Rocks National Reserve near Almo; Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument near Hagerman; Minidoka National Historic Site near Jerome and Nez Perce National Historical Park, which stretches across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Together, the NPS-owned sites produced $48.5 million in economic output in Idaho, thanks to $37.4 million in visitor spending, the NPS reported. The Park Service defines “visitor spending” as money spent within the gateway regions of a park, while economic output refers to “total estimated value of the production of goods and services supported by National Park Service visitor spending,” the report said.

Nearly one-third of the spending went to hotels, and 21% was spent in restaurants.

That means less than 0.2% of NPS visitor dollars were spent in Idaho. The 745,000-plus people who visited Idaho sites in 2018 made up 0.23% of the 318 million park visitors nationwide.

Only 10 states saw lower spending than Idaho: Louisiana ($36.1 million), Oklahoma ($25 million), Nebraska ($18.2 million), Illinois ($12.1 million), Iowa ($11.7 million), Kansas ($5.5 million), Vermont ($3.8 million), Rhode Island ($3.6 million), Connecticut ($2.1 million) and New Hampshire ($1.8 million).

Like Idaho, many of the low-earning states have national monuments, preserves or historic sites rather than national parks.

Idaho’s neighboring states across the West were some of the most lucrative National Park Service areas in 2018, however. California hauled in $2.7 billion in visitor spending — the most of any state. Alaska followed with $1.4 billion, Arizona with $1.3 billion, Utah with $1.2 billion, Wyoming with $928 million, Montana with $633 million and Washington with $506 million. Oregon, the next-lowest-earning state in the region, brought in triple what Idaho saw in visitor spending.

How popular are Idaho National Park Service sites?

Each year, the National Park Service ranks its properties by number of recreational visits. Idaho’s most-visited site was Craters of the Moon, which ranked No. 163 out of 378 total sites in 2018.

City of Rocks ranked No. 210, while Hagerman came in at No. 329 and Minidoka ranked No. 354.

And though Idaho isn’t much of a National Park Service hotspot, its popularity is growing. Since 2013, Craters of the Moon has consistently had more than 200,000 visitors per year, hitting a peak in 2017 of 285,227 visitors.

Statewide, Idaho gained roughly 50,000 visitors from 2017 to 2018. That translated to a $2 million boost in visitor spending.

And more people are coming through Idaho to get to other popular parks. Traffic through the West Gate of Yellowstone, which offers park access in spring and summer via East Idaho and Montana, has grown steadily since the 1990s. More than 144,000 people entered Yellowstone through the West Gate last July, making it the second most popular entry point to the park.

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Nicole Blanchard is the Idaho Statesman’s outdoors reporter. She grew up in Idaho, graduated from Idaho State University and Northwestern University and frequents the trails around Boise as much as she can.