A sampling is not always a study

Published 12:28 am Sunday, March 9, 2014

One set of numbers usually means nothing without a second set of figures so the two can be compared side-by-side.
Results of last week’s study by a handful of economists at the U.S. Geological Survey showed nearly $31 million spent in communities near the Vicksburg National Military Park in 2012, the most recent year analyzed by the authors. Visits to the park hit 573,252 that year. One year’s worth of stats is nice, but a yearly roundup of dollars spent near parks would be more beneficial.
Part of the study dealt with how much last fall’s shutdown of the federal government affected the park system. It, too, deprived us of a basic comparison. It focused on “gateway” communities near 45 parks that happen to be near major metropolitan areas. That’s a tiny fraction of the 401 national parks in the U.S.
As a result, we found out the precise economic impact of the politicians’ inability to fund the government on places like Gettysburg NMP, a place on which many a Vicksburg National Military Park enthusiast has mixed emotions, Valley Forge NHP, near the nation’s capital, and Theodore Roosevelt NP, in remote western North Dakota.
Those parks lost a lot of visitors during the 16-day shutdown. But so did VNMP, where the closure forced a big chunk of Vicksburg’s tourism activity south to Port Gibson and the state-run Grand Gulf Military Park. And, no doubt, 20-acre Shiloh National Military Park, spread over two counties in southern Tennessee and northern Mississippi, had fewer visitors and less money was spent in the small towns around it. Same goes for Pea Ridge National Military Park in northwestern Arkansas. The park is among the best preserved Civil War battlefields, yet the impact of the shutdown isn’t known because it’s not among the parks listed
The choice of words to describe the shutdown’s impact on parks in lower population densities is but a guess. We can assume based on the dearth of vehicles around Clay Street there was a dropoff in visitor spending in Vicksburg last October compared to recent mid-fall totals. There’s no empirical data, however, and that’s a bit disheartening.
The USGS or National Park Service could easily turn the next big study on parks into “news we could use”. How? It would require more time and resources, but a look at how communities around all 401 parks and parkways nationwide were affected by the shutdown would fit that bill. Vicksburg, as park superintendent Michael Madell said, is basically the gateway for the park if one tailors the study’s jargon to local concerns. The park drivers tourism in this city, and local businesses are stimulated by tourism. Outlining a way to keep everyone stimulated about spending money locally is something on which all parts of the community can agree.