Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

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Growth Rate of National Park Visits (2017)


In 2017, the growth rate in national park visits within the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was 16.2%, this was more than double the previous year’s growth. Tucson ranked second among peer western MSAs just behind El Paso. Colorado Springs and Portland both posted a decline in the number of visitors to national parks located in their respective region. During 2017, the growth rate in national park visits for the U.S. was flat. Since the Great Recession, the number of visitors to national parks in the Tucson MSA region has rebounded. 

Why is it important?

Outdoor recreational land provides neighboring communities with direct social and economic benefits. Scenic views, outdoor recreational opportunities, and open space have been linked to amenity driven economic development, increased real estate values, and positive public health outcomes. Moreover, recreational land and outdoor leisure opportunities attract visitor spending, which in turn serves as an important input to local retail and service sectors. One study has estimated direct spending due to tourism at $19 billion in Arizona during 2012, supporting approximately 160,000 full-time equivalent jobs statewide.

How do we compare?

In 2012, the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) ranked fifth among 12 western MSAs, with 28.9% of its land cover comprised of federal recreational land. Las Vegas ranked first with 84.9%, while San Antonio ranked last at 0.02%. Three MSAs in Texas had less than one percent of their area held as federal recreational land, while the remaining nine MSAs had larger shares, ranging from 15.0% to 84.9%.

What are the key trends?

The growth rate in national park visits in the Tucson MSA was 16.2% in 2017, a continuation of the positive growth from 2013 that broke a five-year trend during which park visits declined. Since 2001, Tucson has seen some volatility in visits, with rates increasing during periods of economic growth and decreasing during the Great Recession. The growth rate in park visits has increased during the past few years in Arizona, but was affected by the Recession, falling significantly between 2009 and 2012. Rates remained steady nationwide during the period of 2001-2013 with substantial increases between 2014 and 2016. The number of visitors to national parks throughout the U.S. remained constant between 2016 and 2017, resulting in zero growth.   

Interested in learning more about tourism trends in Arizona? Check out the Tourism and Travel page on EBRC’s Arizona’s Economy online magazine. Looking for data on international tourism trends? EBRC’s Arizona-Mexico Economic Indicators site has the latest indicators on Arizona-Mexico Tourism.

How is it measured?

The percentage of federal recreational land is computed by dividing Type A, B, and C federal lands by total land area for a geography. Type A lands include National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service; Type B includes Wilderness Areas; Type C includes Bureau of Land Management and other Forest Service lands, as well as Oregon and California Revested Grant lands (OLM). Data are courtesy of a 2012 Headwaters Economics report. While aggregate land-use totals are accurate estimates as of 2012, data releases by agencies vary. Percent change in National Park visits is computed from National Park Service (NPS), Integrated Resource Management Applications (IRMA) Visitor Use Statistics, which are published annually.