ASSATEAGUE — With the long-range future of Assateague Island National Seashore in question, including a rather draconian option of allowing the barrier island to return to its pristine, primitive state, there is little doubt about its economic impact on the area after the results of a study were released late last week.
The National Park Service is currently considering a revised General Management Plan (GMP), which will direct the barrier island’s future for the next 25 years or more, a new report released last week revealed the roughly 2.3 million visitors to the part spent $96.7 million in the local area last week with a cumulative benefit to the local economy of nearly $110 million. That spending supported 1,320 jobs in the local area.
The study results come while the National Park Service in considering a revision of the GMP for the Assateague Island National Seashore. Faced with a frequency and increased intensity of coastal storms, climate change and sea level rise, the NPS is considering a draft GMP which will chart the future of the barrier island. While the alternatives on the table include maintaining the status quo to a rather draconian plan to eventually allow AINS to return to its natural primitive state, its economic impact on the region has been confirmed by the report.
“Assateague Island National Seashore welcomes visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Superintendent Debbie Darden. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experience it provides. We also feature the park as a way to introduce our visitors to this part of the country and all that it offers.”
The report released last week creates a conundrum of sorts for the barrier island. On the one hand, the draft GMP is considering a gradual backing down from the current public use of the barrier island, while the economic impact suggests taking steps to maintain or even enhance visitor use and the associated spending.
“National Park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well,” said Darden. “We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back but helping sustain local communities.”
Meanwhile, sustaining Assateague Island National Seashore long-term is still in question with the GMP on the table. The GMP is considering four alternatives ranging from maintaining the status quo to eventually allowing the barrier island to return to its natural primitive state.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the state and federal partners that manage Assateague will someday let nature run its course and access to the barrier island could be limited and the man-made structures could be allowed to simply disappear when they are lost or damaged during more frequent and more severe storms. Likely somewhere in between is an alternative that will adapt the man-made structures to be more sustainable and possibly remove some from the island altogether while continuing to allow limited public access.
Under Alternative 3, which is the NPS’ stated preference, visitor use infrastructure would evolve to more sustainable designs and likely shift to more stable locations both on and off the island. Under Alternative 4, visitors would continue to use existing facilities and infrastructure until such time as they are lost or damaged by natural coastal processes. Lost or damaged facilities would either not be replaced, or would be minimally replaced with sustainable substitutes.