Fewer visitors spent fewer dollars in communities adjacent to Redwood National and State Parks in 2017 than during the National Park Service’s centennial the year before, according to an updated tourist spending analysis.

Last year 445,000 visitors spent about $27.8 million in the area surrounding Redwood National and State Parks, according to the 2017 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects Report. Those visitors created 433 jobs, which generated $11 million in labor income locally, according to the report.

But because of Redwood National and State Parks’ unique configuration, it’s difficult to get an accurate visitor count, said Candace Tinkler, RNSP’s chief of interpretation.

“(In) Yellowstone National Park or the Grand Canyon, for example, it’s fairly easy to count people more or less because they come into an entrance station and every single one of them’s basically counted,” Tinkler said. “Here, we are just this Swiss cheese (with) many different entries. There’s no official booth you go through and of course we have two major highways.”

Authored by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas, of the U.S. Geological Survey, and Lynne Koontz, of the National Park Service, the spending report analyzes the impact national park tourism has on economies in counties and communities within a 60-mile radius around each park boundary.

This year’s report shows national park visitation in California decreased from about 42 million in 2016 to 40.5 million in 2017, according to a National Park Service news release. Those visitors spent nearly $2 billion in economies surrounding the state’s 28 national park units, which resulted in 255,000 jobs and had a cumulative benefit to California’s overall economy of $2.7 billion, according to the news release.

National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy as well, returning $10 for every $1 spent, Martha Lee, acting regional director for the NPS’s Pacific West Region, said in a written statement.

Nationally, more than 330 million visitors spent $18.2 billion in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally, 255,900 of which are found in gateway communities, according to the NPS news release.

In their analysis, Thomas and Koontz stated that lodging counted for the largest share of visitor spending, while food came in second. In the area of Redwood National and State Parks, visitors spent $9.5 million to stay in local hotels in 2017 and $567,000, according to an interactive tool at www.nps.gov/vse. Visitors to RNSP also spent $1.8 million in groceries and $5.4 million at restaurants, according to the tool.

At Redwood National and State Parks, officials are able to keep a tally of visitors at their campgrounds and in their visitor centers, Tinkler said. There are also counters at some trailheads, including the parking space near the Damnation Creek Trail, although Tinkler said there’s no way of knowing if the people who are stopping there are visitors.

Tinkler said she also tracks annual visitation at Redwood National and State Parks, adding up the official statistics provided by the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The California Department of Parks and Recreation provides statistics for Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks.

According to Tinkler, the National Park Service’s statistics are based on the calendar year — from Jan. 1-Dec. 31 — while the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s statistics are based on the fiscal year — from July 1-June 30.

Tinkler noted that her calculations provide a conservative amount compared to “what the real numbers would probably be,” but show trends in visitation. For example, according to her statistics, in 2016, 536,297 people visited Redwood National Park and 209,758 people visited Jedediah Smith.

Tinkler also said that the California Department of Parks and Recreations’ 2015 and 2016 visitor statistics for Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park appear to be inaccurate.

“I know that in both those years we had record visitation to the Mill Creek Campground alone,” she said in an email. “Not to mention all the other parts of DNCR, such as the Mill Creek Watershed area, which is open on weekends, the Damnation Creek and California Coastal trails and the Wilson Creek picnic area.”

In terms of retail within the parks, Tinkler said the Redwood Parks Conservancy’s gross sales for 2017 was more than $1.5 million. This includes sales from conservancy outlets in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. Proceeds support Redwood National and State Parks as well as Tolowa Dunes State Park, Pelican State Beach and the Smith River National Recreation Area, she said.

“In addition to the number of visitors that come to Del Norte and Humboldt counties to visit Redwood National and State Parks, keep in mind that here in Del Norte County there is also visitation to Tolowa Dunes State Park, Pelican State Beach, Smith River (National) Recreation Area, Lake Earl Wildlife Area, Waukel Creek Wildlife Area, the California Coastal Monument and more,” Tinkler said.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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