The 16-day government shutdown last October was a significant economic blow to the Bay Area and communities near other California national parks. A study released Monday by the National Park Service says the shutdown was responsible for a loss of $22.6 million in visitor spending at six of the state's most popular national parks:
- Yosemite National Park: $6.7 million
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area: $6.1 million
- Sequoia National Park: $2.9 million
- Joshua Tree National Park: $2.4 millon
- Point Reyes National Seashore: $2.3 million
- Muir Woods National Monument: $2.2 million
The shutdown forced closure of most facilities in most national parks for 16 days last October. That meant about 260,000 fewer visitors at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area compared to prior Octobers. That was the second highest visitor reduction nationwide after the 330,000 loss at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a popular autumn destination on the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
"We have 17 million visitors a year," said GGNRA spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet. "And to have that long of a period that we were unavailable to visitors, it just was an aberration."
Nationally, there were 7.8 million fewer national park visitors in October 2013 than the average for the previous three Octobers. The report estimates lost visitor spending nationwide at $414 million.
But the shutdown's impact didn't fall equally on all parks.
The nation's newest national park, Pinnacles, located about 110 miles southeast of San Francisco, largely avoided the ill effects of the government shutdown. That's thanks, in part, to the shutdown coming at an opportune time for the park: October falls in the middle of the off-season, before the park brings back non-essential staff for the busy season in December, explained Pinnacles spokeswoman Nichole Andler.
And Pinnacles has had another advantage, she said. "Just becoming a new national park, our visibility has been really highly raised, both with local residents and people coming from greater distances."
In 2012, the park created 147 jobs and generated $12.7 million for neighboring communities, according to a second report released by the National Park Service on Monday. That's when it was still a national monument. Pinnacles became a national park in January 2013. (The numbers on 2013 economic contributions aren't out yet.)
Officials in towns near the park have hoped that with the elevated designation, more tourists and money would come to the area. Soledad, situated at the western entrance of the park, has attempted an ambitious re-branding campaign to become "the gateway" to Pinnacles.
"We've never really had a lot of tourists," Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma said, "but we noticed right away when the designation changed, numbers were up 30 to 40 percent." Ledesma said he hopes a new visitors' center will help point tourists to other local attractions including wineries. "I think we're just barely starting to see people realize the residual effects of the Pinnacles," he said.
The economic impact in San Benito County, on the eastern side of the park has been less noticeable, said Debbie Taylor, president and CEO of San Benito County Chamber of Commerce. The park's eastern entrance is about 30 miles south of the county seat of Hollister along relatively little-visited Highway 25.
"We definitely have seen more traffic, more visitors," Taylor said. But commercial activity is arriving in a trickle, she said, and not entirely because of the park. "Businesses that are opening are still within the city limits, and they're not necessarily opening because of the park."