HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- Recreation in the Rocky Mountains' national parks has provided a boon to their surrounding communities as the economy struggles to recover from recession, with visitors spending $1 billion in the region's four biggest parks in 2010, a new study found.
More than 11 million people who visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain and Glacier national parks also supported 15,412 jobs, according to the study released Tuesday by the National Park Service.
The biggest beneficiaries were gateway towns in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho within 60 miles of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Those parks drew 6.3 million visitors who spent $758 million in 2010.
"We're not always in a position to really point to some solid figures of that economic impact," Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. "(But) when you look at these kinds of figures and realize that every visitor means over $90 to the area economy, it reinforces the significant role that visitors to the park play.:
The study was conducted by a Michigan State University researcher for the park service and analyzed 2010 economic data from 394 parks across the country. It found that nationwide, 281 million visitors spent $12 billion in so-called "local gateway regions" within about 60 miles of the parks.
A little more than half of that spending went toward lodging and meals and 19 percent toward gas and local transportation. The rest went to retail spending, amusements and groceries.
Those numbers were not broken down by park, but Chuck Curtis, who owns four businesses near Yellowstone's northern entrance at Gardiner, Mont., said they sound about right for Yellowstone.
He estimates that park visitors make up about 70 percent of his business.
"Everybody's very busy in the summertime," Curtis said. "That's when you make your living."
The study found that visitors to all national park units -- which includes the parks and historic and national landmarks -- spent a total of $610.6 million in Wyoming; $292.7 million in Colorado; and $291.4 million in Montana.