- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Fewer people visited Virginia’s national park sites last year and spent less money during those visits, according to a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The report outlines the number of visits and the economic impact at the country’s 400-plus sites in the national park system that draw visitors from across the country and around the world and serve as economic engines for local communities.

In Virginia, 22 million-plus recreation visits were recorded in 2013 at Virginia’s national park sites - including Shenandoah National Park, Colonial National Historic Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Assateague Island National Seashore on the Eastern Shore, as well as numerous historic battlefields.

According to the report, released Friday, visitors in Virginia spent nearly $871 million while visiting national parks in 2013, supporting more than 12,350 jobs in Virginia. Lodging accounts for a lot of that spending, followed by restaurants and bars, groceries, gas and souvenirs, admissions and fees. That’s down from the $926 million spent in 2012 with nearly 23.4 million visits in Virginia.

Overall, the national park system received 273.6 million recreation visits in 2013, down from 282.7 million in 2012. The 16-day government shutdown last October accounted for most of the decline, but National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis noted that visitation so far this year indicates a rebound from 2013.

Total park-dependent visitor spending was put at $14.6 billion nationally, slightly down from the year before. The report said that around the country the national parks supported nearly 240,000 jobs.

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” Jarvis said in a news release. “While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.”

Jarvis said that the importance of national parks to the economy is clear, with every tax dollar invested returning $10 to the U.S. economy.