Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wildfires hit recreation spending in rural areas

Rangers keep track of a fire in Glacier National Park. (Photo by Lisa Jones)
The 2017 wildfire season is already the most expensive in history due to the cost of fire suppression. Meanwhile, reduced recreation spending is also hurting state and local budgets, and probably the federal budget in a small way. Recreation and adventure tourism accounts for $887 billion in the U.S. economy each year, and some rural communities depend on that money.

"Across the Northwest, businesses that rely on recreation and tourism dollars have faced one of the most disruptive wildfire seasons on record. For Cycle Oregon alone . . . 2,000 cyclists either changed plans or canceled their trips altogether because fire and smoke made conditions hazardous and unhealthy. Disruptions like that can have a big cumulative impact on recreation-dependent communities," Bryce Oates and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.

For example, visits at Glacier National Park were down 14 percent in August from last year, while the main attraction, Going-to-the-Sun Road, was closed. The nearby town of Whitefish depends heavily on hotel revenues from park visitors; this summer "was the first time that lodging tax collections decreased during the summer since the economic recession of 2009," said Dylan Boyle, the executive director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But Whitefish recreation promoter Lisa Jones told the Yonder that it's not all bad news: The park had a record high number of visitors this summer. Part of that is because of social media, she says. Nervous would-be tourists can find out quickly whether conditions are clear at the park and plan accordingly. "In 2015, I sent a letter to all of the local media, and some national media, telling them basically to not scare people away. The wildfires are not going to shut down the whole region. We’ve built a community infrastructure of diverse activities in diverse places," Jones said.

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