Promoting Travel to National Parks: Michael Ward



STATEMENT OF MICHAEL M. WARD,

SUPERINTENDENT, VOYAGEURS NATIONAL PARK, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON COMPETIVENESS, INNOVATION, AND EXPORT PROMOTION

OF THE SENATE COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE

AT THE OVERSIGHT HEARING ON

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL: PROMOTING OUR NATIONAL PARKS AS TRAVEL DESTINATIONS.

APRIL 27, 2010

Madam Chairwoman, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on an issue that is vital to Voyageurs National Park and the gateway communities that support the park.

It is fitting that Voyageurs National Park is represented here today. This subcommittee, with responsibilities related to trade, has a subject matter tie to the history that is commemorated at Voyageurs National Park. The original voyageurs, French-Canadian canoemen, carried various trade goods and bartered them for furs trapped by the Ojibwa Indians. They canoed the waters in a customary route that became the international border between the United States and Canada. I think it is also fitting that the discussion today covers tourism that crosses international boundaries, including the original boundary established by the voyageurs.

Voyageurs National Park is a 218,000-acre water-based park located in northern Minnesota. The park was established on April 8, 1975, and this year we celebrate our 35th anniversary. The park was created to preserve the outstanding scenery, geological conditions, and waterway system that comprise part of the historic route of the voyageurs who contributed significantly to the opening of the Northwest Territories.

The park and its diverse resources provide outstanding opportunities for scientific and artistic study, environmental education, exploring indigenous and historic cultures, a wide array of outdoor recreation, and an appreciation of the north woods lake country setting.

Five gateway communities support our park. They are the city of Orr, the communities of Ash River, Kabetogama, Crane Lake, and the city of International Falls. The park provides an estimated economic impact of approximately $11 million in spending and 200 jobs to the regional economy.[1] In these small communities, the park serves as one of the primary employers and the reason for which most private businesses exist. These businesses offer gas, lodging, food, fishing guides, and other amenities. Within three of the gateway communities, the livelihood of these people is completely dependent on tourism receipts associated with park visitors. Over the years, services in these communities have declined substantially.The decline may be as a result of the closure and sale of resorts near the park or perhaps it is associated with the downturn in the economy.

Over the last few years the park has worked with its partners and our gateway communities to increase tourism. We have completed several projects including: creating a public television film of all of the National Park Service units in Minnesota to link to Ken Burns' film about national parks, constructing a new 49-passenger tour boat to serve visitors without a boat and to increase access into the park, expanding winter activities to increase visitation seasonally, and partnering with Destination Voyageurs National Park, a non-profit 501 (c) 6 organization , which works to support and increase park tourism.

Visitation at the park in 2009 was slightly lower than previous years at 222,000 people. Only about one percent of these visitors were international tourists. Two-thirds of the international visitors to Voyageurs travel from Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. For a park that shares an international border, we would expect a higher rate of international tourists.

The new Corporation for Travel Promotion could potentially help market and share America's great outdoors with more international travelers.Voyageurs National Park and its gateway communities offer recreation, history, culture, and scenic beauty that we believe visitors from abroad would enjoy immensely, if only they knew enough about the park to plan a visit there.

Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my prepared statement.I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.

 

[1] Stynes, D.J."National Park Visitor Spending and Payroll Impacts: 2008." National Park Service, 2009.