California tourists spent $500 million at Yosemite in 2018, and even more at another park

Visitors’ spending in the communities around California’s national parks soared by $800 million in 2018, according to a new report from the Department of Interior.

The report, prepared by economists with the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service, found that nearly 40 million visitors spent an estimated $2.7 billion in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands in California last year. That’s up from $1.9 billion in 2017.

Visitors to Yosemite National Park, alone, spent $495 million in the surrounding area, ranking it second among the 28 national parks, monuments and historic sites in the state. While that tops 2017 spending by more than $40 million, it’s less than the $521 million visitors spent in 2016 — which was a high-water mark for Yosemite and its environs.

The report’s authors estimated that the money spent by Yosemite visitors in 2018 supported 6,180 jobs and $221 million in labor income.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, based in San Francisco, experienced the biggest jump in visitors and spending in 2018. The report estimated that the area, which includes attractions like Alcatraz Island, Crissy Field and the Marin Headlands, received 15.2 million visitors last year, who spent an estimated $1 billion in the region. In 2017, by comparison, visitors spent $395 million.

Kings Canyon National Park, to the east of Fresno, saw its visitor spending continue its steady climb in 2018, with just over $61 million in spending supporting 810 jobs, the report said. Visitor spending at neighboring Sequoia National Park dropped slightly, to $94.4 million, after topping $95 million the past two years.

While visitors to national parks around the country continue to grow, the National Park Service is grappling with a massive $11 billion-plus backlog for maintenance of park infrastructure and facilities. The condition of many of those facilities grew worse during the 35-day partial government shutdown earlier this year. Bathrooms, campgrounds and trails at Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks reported damage during the shutdown, and many of the state’s parks faced major clean-up operations once the government reopened.

Members of both parties have introduced a bill in Congress to provide $6.5 billion for park repairs, which they are hoping to pass this year. The Department of Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, has signaled its support.

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and writes the Impact2020 newsletter. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.