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New report details spending in national park gateway communities

By KTVM Staff
Published On: Mar 04 2014 06:38:01 PM MST
GARDINER, Mont. -

A new government study puts a dollar figure on the impact of national parks to surrounding communities.

The study by the National Parks Service looked at tourism spending within 60 miles of a national park.

In Montana it translated to a $403 million economic benefit from the state's five national parks, and to creating 6,525 jobs.

Yellowstone Grill owner Schalene Darr started her own business  in Gardiner, Montana as a response to growing tourism in the area.

She says, "I grew up here and I really felt that there was a need for another restaurant in the area."

Yellowstone National Park saw almost 3.5 million visitors in 2012, Darr tells NBC-Montana those three and half million visitors keep her business running year round.

She explains, "I would say the majority of the business comes from tourists that come through. We definitely have the locals locals, but they try to steer clear just for the fact of the huge number of people in town."

According to the report by the National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park alone created 5,600 jobs for communities that surround the park, supporting, hotels, grocery stores, and restaurants like Darr's.

"The tourism led me to hire more people.", she told us.

One local business owner in Gardniner told NBC-Montana last summer's tourist season was so strong he was able to keep four seasonal workers on as year-round employees.

Scott Demaree owns Gardiner Market and relies on the revenue he makes during the hectic summer months to ensure he can continue to grow his business during the slower winter.

He says"We could not make these changes if we're not constantly able to cash in and grow our business with the tourism."

Last year's strong numbers are good sign considering the government shutdown in October took away 16 days of park business. And reduced visitor spending an estimated $ 15.7 million dollars.

Demaree explains the fluctuating nature of working in a tourist town. Explaining by making a triangle with his hands. "It's like this, and we're down here in the shoulder months", referring to the bottom of the triangle, "and up here is the middle of the summer, it's huge."

But Yellowstone Grill owner Schalene Darr tells me every year is different and has to consider staffing carefully to ensure that she makes it through the next season.

"I'm going to try to scale back as much as i can in the summertime from what i had last year.", she says, "I had 5-6 people at a time so I'm going to try and do 4-5."

While Yellowstone is busiest in the summer, the winter tourism season is also important, with some business switching over snowmobile and ski rentals.

The park is preparing to wrap up the winter season this month and start gearing up spring openings in April.