National Parks Are Worth More Than You Think

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When someone mentions the value of the U.S. national parks, it’s difficult not think purely in heavy, abstract terms, while considering the true price tag of America’s preserved wilderness isn’t all that easy. It’s a simpler task to explain how personally valuable it was to see the Grand Canyon for the first time, or how intrinsically valuable it is to keep endangered animals and habitats unharmed, but what are the parks actually worth?

According to a new “study” released last week, the answer might surprise you. The research project, conducted by professors at Colorado State University and the Harvard Kennedy School, found the true total economic value of American national parks and to be a whopping $92 billion per year.

In essence, that number represents the total amount of money earned annually by national parks, including the value of programs managed by the National Park Service, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the National Natural Landmarks Program.

One of the most shocking parts of the value is its comparison to how much we as a country actually pay for the parks themselves. Currently, the Congressional budget only spends $3 billion on national parks each year, meaning they’re worth over 30 times more than they cost taxpayers.

In many ways, the finding reflects a gap between how much Americans value the country’s most beautiful beaches, mountains, deserts and forests, and how much they actually pay for them. In fact, a survey conducted as a part of the study found that 80 percent of U.S. citizens would pay higher federal taxes to ensure the protection and preservation of the National Park System.

Additionally, 95 percent said that protecting national parks for future generations was important, and 49 percent said they would personally pay up to $400 more every year in order to ensure no land was sold off.

The valuation comes not only during the year of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, but also during the National Park Foundation’s $350 million fundraising campaign, which has already raised over $225 million since the beginning of the year.

If you’re a parks enthusist in a giving mood, the campaign has a fundraising page for those who agree that national parks could use some more money. At the very least, seeing what $92 billion looks like isn’t a bad excuse to plan a last-minute summer trip to one of the parks.