ASSATEAGUE — Not only has Assateague Island National Seashore weathered the last few years of national economic turbulence, according to officials, business has been steadily improving.
“We’ve seen a very slight increase [in visitors] over the last 3-4 years,” said Carl Zimmerman, management assistant for Assateague Island National Seashore.
According to a recently released National Parks Service (NPS) report, Assateague was “ranked among the top twenty parks nationwide in both visitor spending and job creation.”
The report notes that in 2010, 2,106,090 visitors spent $142,650,000 at the park and in nearby communities in Maryland and Virginia.
“It’s great to be an asset to the state,” Zimmerman said.
Assateague Island National Seashore Superintendent Trish Kicklighter also commented on the positive economic spillover to regions that contain a national park like Assateague.
“The people and the business owners in communities near national parks have always known the economic value of parks,” she said. “Assateague Island National Seashore is a clean, green engine that helps drive our local economy.”
It’s not just Assateague that’s seeing an increase is visitors and revenue. The NPS reported that 3,541,570 people visited all of the national parks in Maryland, spending $178,418,000. That money helped support an estimated 2,371 jobs in the state.
The majority of money and jobs are in the fields of lodging, food and beverage services at 52 percent, other retail at 29 percent, entertainment and amusements at 10 percent, gas and local transportation at 7 percent, and groceries at 2 percent, according to the report.
On a national scale, roughly $12 billion dollars were estimated to have been spent by 28 million visitors in 394 national parks and the neighboring regions. Local visitor spending accounted for about $31 billion nationally in 2010, supporting 258,000 jobs. The report highlights that as an increase of $689 million and 11,500 jobs from the previous year.
Zimmerman attributed the good numbers for parks to the condition of the economy.
“Folks have less money to spend,” he said.
With most vacation budgets shrinking across the country, Zimmerman reasoned that a relatively inexpensive trip to Assateague has become more and more appealing for visitors.
“There’s no doubt that visitation to parks increases when money is tight,” he said.
According to Zimmerman, there are some differences between Assateague and other, similar parks.
“It’s two things — the great beaches and the horses,” he said.
Zimmerman referenced the fame Assateague has collected for being a refuge for wild ponies, which live on the island and roam the beach. Another perk that helped land the park in the top 20, said Zimmerman, is its proximity to a famous resort town.
“We’re right next door to Ocean City, Md.,” he remarked.
Ocean City brings in millions of visitors every summer. Zimmerman explained that many of them, after a few days in town, trickle off into the surrounding area and find themselves on the more relaxed Assateague Island.
While the past few years have been good, rising gas prices have tourist hotspots worried nationwide about business this summer. However, Zimmerman doesn’t predict any trouble for Assateague. He pointed out that when gas prices peak, people tend to look in their own back yards for vacations.
“We’re that closer-to-home destination for a lot of folks,” he said.