Study shows Carlsbad Caverns impact on local economy slow to recover post pandemic

·4 min read
A view of Carlsbad Caverns National Park from atop the visitor's center at Pine Springs.
A view of Carlsbad Caverns National Park from atop the visitor's center at Pine Springs.

Tourism to Carlsbad Caverns National Park failed to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, generating $27.4 million in economic output, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

In 2019, the park's economic output was $32.4 million, which plunged to $13.6 million in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park implemented a number of public safety requirements that year to battle the spread of the virus, closing public elevators, requiring masks and limiting access to reservations.

Hotels in the park's gateway communities - communities within 60 miles surrounding national park and monument sites- received the greatest benefit, accounting for $8.5 million, or nearly 31%, of direct impacts. The restaurant sector benefitted from tourism to the Caverns reporting $4.9 million in economic output as a direct result of tourism to the site.

Portions of Carlsbad National Park reopened on June 16, 2020. A temporary closure was instituted at the park due to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Portions of Carlsbad National Park reopened on June 16, 2020. A temporary closure was instituted at the park due to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Economic output, or the total value of producing goods and services supported by national parks, reached $196 million in New Mexico. It wasn't enough, however, to land the state among the Top 10 states according to the U.S. Park Service. That list was led by California at $3.9 billion, and North Carolina and Utah at $2.6 and $2.5 billion respectively.

The 349,000 visitors to the park in 2021 spent $25.1 million. In 2019 visitor spending was documented at $28.8 million and in 2020 it was $12.1 million.

More:New Mexico state parks could prove alternative to national parks closed amid wildfires

The money spent by visitors supported 312 jobs in the local economy according to the U.S. Park Service.

"National parks are a vital part of our nation's economy, especially for park gateway communities where millions of visitors each year find a place to sleep and eat and make use of other local services that help drive a vibrant tourism industry," said Superintendent Carmen Chapin.

"At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we are excited to share the story of this place and the experiences 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."

Statewide visitors to national parks spent $156 million while visiting New Mexico's two national parks and various national monuments.

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) tours Carlsbad Caverns National Park on July 6, 2021.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) tours Carlsbad Caverns National Park on July 6, 2021.

National parks around the U.S. received 300 million visitors overall in 2021.

While the Caverns worked to rebuild its visitor numbers, nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park's economic output reached $20.7 million, a record-high for the park.

In 2019 the park generation $14.3 million in economic output and dropped to $11.7 in 2020.

"People travel from around the world to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and we are grateful for the hospitality and support shown by the people of West Texas and southern New Mexico," said Superintendent Eric Leonard.

"Economic activity is only one way to measure park visitors' experiences here in the region, but this study demonstrates that visitors are inspired by places like Guadalupe Mountains National Park in ways that can benefit rural communities."

More:Fireworks restrictions remain in place despite monsoon

The park drew and estimated 243,000 visitors in 2021 who spent a record $16.8 million in gateway communities in 2021- primarily for food and lodging. The lodging sector received $5.5 million of those funds with restaurants receiving $3.2 million. The next largest expenditure was for gas at $3 million.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in Texas, just over its border with New Mexico. Visitors to national parks and monuments in Texas spent $371 million in 2021 and generated an economic output of $579 million.

2022 summer tourism season challenged by fires, drought and flooding

Park trails recently re-opened at Guadalupe Mountains National Park following closures due to fire danger and flooding, the Park Service announced.

Day use of all trails in the Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness are now open. Campgrounds at Pine Springs, Frijole Horse Corral are available by reservation at www.recreation.gov.

Trails and campgrounds in Dog Canyon remained closed however and overnight wilderness camping permits were not being issued as of July 1.

The view from atop Ship on the Desert during a cloudy fall day, Oct. 18, 2018 at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
The view from atop Ship on the Desert during a cloudy fall day, Oct. 18, 2018 at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

"Although the park has received a limited amount of rain in recent weeks, fire danger remains high, especially with the prevalence of lightning strikes occurring during afternoon and evening storms," a news release from the Forest Service read.

"Visitors are reminded that open flame, including campfires, charcoal or wood grills, portable fire pits and chimneys, and fireworks are strictly prohibited throughout Guadalupe Mountains National Park."

At Carlsbad Caverns National Park certain fire restrictions were lifted this week as rains eased dry conditions in the region.

The backcountry was reopened for day use and included open access to all park trails.

Also reopened are Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, Yucca Canyon and Slaughter Canyon.

Visitors are allowed to use propane cooking stoves in picnic areas. However, charcoal and wood fires are still prohibited, along with any open flames in the backcountry areas.

Visitors are reminded that smoking is also prohibited except inside personal vehicles.

Jessica Onsurez can be reached by email at jonsurez@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JussGREAT.

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: U.S. Park Service study shows tourism gains and losses to Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains during pandemic