April 23, 2018
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National parks draw more than just visitors

By George Wuerthner, Special to the BDN

I’d like to provide some economic perspective on Roxanne Quimby’s national park proposal near Baxter State Park.

First, some background on myself. I have a home in Livingston, Mont., near Yellowstone National Park. I first moved to Livingston to be near Yellowstone, and later I started a business that operates in the park.

The idea that the only jobs created by national parks are low paying ignores the numerous small businesses such as my own that would not exist without Yellowstone Park. And even in times of recession, my business continues to make a profit because people still want to vacation and see the national parks.

Parks are incubators for many small, local businesses that provide for visitor needs and provide good incomes for their owners-operators — not just low-wage seasonal employment.

But more important, and what appears to be ignored by park opponents, are the many jobs and businesses that are created by people who like living near national parks.

Quite a number of people move their businesses — most totally unrelated to meeting tourist needs — to communities near the parks so they can have the park out their backdoor, so to speak.

For example, I know of a financial adviser from Minnesota who moved his business to my town because he wanted to live near the park. His clients live in Minnesota, but he lives in Montana and works electronically with his clients.

Similarly, one of the largest printing companies in the U.S. is located in my community because the owner loves Yellowstone. The company employs more than 100 people.

But it’s not just businesses that are lured to communities near parks. There is a huge number of people who are independent of the local economy who have chosen to live in my town and other communities around Yellowstone because they like living near Yellowstone. This includes everyone from movie stars and singers to retirees with pensions.

One fellow I know is a retired New York City policeman and another is a commercial jet pilot who “commutes” to his jet in Seattle, but lives in Livingston. Both of these people have chosen Livingston because of its proximity to Yellowstone. These people bring their money with them and they spend it locally paying local taxes and supporting everything from the local grocery store to the local bank to insurance to doctors to the local car dealership.

Indeed, a recent economic study found that more than half of the income in my county comes from what are known as “transfer payments” from retirement, stock investments and so on. And for the most part, these are very stable incomes that help to maintain the local community businesses year round even in times of recession.

Because of this stable source of income, real estate values in my town have remained stable. There is no “housing crisis” because there is a nearly constant demand for housing by people who have stable income not dependent in any way on the local economy.

I predict that if a national park were created in Maine as proposed nearby communities like Millinockett and Bangor will almost certainly benefit economically — and more importantly, the citizens will have guaranteed access to a wonderful portion of the Maine Woods forever.

George Wuerthner lives in Richmond, Vt., and Livingston, Mont. He is a writer, photographer and ecologist who has led tours in Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park, in addition to Yellowstone National Park. He is chair of the board of directors of RESTORE: The North Woods.

Correction: An early version of this story included incomplete information for its author. George Wuerthner is chair of the board of directors of RESTORE: The North Woods.

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