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ND national park tourism creates $56.7M in economic benefits in 2017

Tourists take photos of wild horses June 18, 2016, in the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (file photo)

MEDORA—A new National Park Service report shows that 733,000 visitors to Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park spent $45.6 million in 2017 in communities near these attractions.

That spending supported 643 jobs in the surrounding areas and had a cumulative benefit to the state economy of $56.7 million.

"The North Dakota national parks protect cherished resources, and they are a significant driver in the state's tourism economy," Park Superintendent Wendy Ross said in a statement. "We welcome visitors from across the country and around the world to experience these special places. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities."

The peer-reviewed spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service.

According to the report, visitor spending across North Dakota national sites is down slightly from 2016, when visitors were estimated to spend around $50 million, but is still up significantly from the previous four years when visitors spent an average of $36.6 million from 2012-15.

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is near Williston and Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site is near Stanton. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a north unit near Watford City and a south unit in Medora.

According to the report, there were 552 jobs supported by spending around Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 2017, with 157 being in the hotel industry and another 139 in the restaurant business. Spending also supported 57 retail jobs in 2017, the report data said.

Terri Thiel, executive director of the Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she believes the national park is "the number one draw to head out this way."

"(Theodore Roosevelt National Park) really is a big draw for what we get for leisure travelers," she said. "... It's a big draw for us. It's a big part of what we do for our marketing. We don't really look at Dickinson as being one community of one or two attractions, we try and make (the city) the hub of everything to get people to go explore different things going north, south, east or west."

She said the park is one of the "main tools in our tool chest" when working on marketing for the city and the area.

The park is currently conducting a visitor use survey in conjunction with the University of Utah to look at how the park affects regional tourism and where partnerships can be made with groups in surrounding communities.

Earlier this spring, a community meeting was held in Dickinson about the visitor use study. During the meeting, Ross noted the importance of "sharing the love" and working together to look at ways tourism can grow not only at the park, but in western North Dakota in general. Thiel agreed that working together is an important part of success.

Nationwide, more than 330 million park visitors spent $18.2 billion in communities located within 60 miles of a national park. That spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally; 255,900 of those jobs are found in gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion.

For those who would look more closely at the data from the report, they can go to The interactive tool allows people to look at data from a national, statewide and local level.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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