Park’s impact on Hot Springs economy strong

By Wayne Bryan Published July 24, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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FILE PHOTO

Park Ranger Mark Scott and Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez reviewed in May 2013 some of the improvements made along Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park. Later in the year, the Fordyce Bath House reopened as the park’s visitor center. Most of the bathhouses along the row are now open to the public.

HOT SPRINGS — Visitors keep coming to Hot Springs National Park, and they are spending more when they get there, according to a report released Friday by the National Parks Service.

“I have not seen the numbers that were released in the report, but I know that personnel in the park say the visitors have been spending more,” said Josie Fernandez, superintendent of Hot Springs National Park. “They say visitor purchasing is up by thousands of dollars.”

According to visitor counts at the national park that have been kept since 1904, more than 1 million visitors have come to Hot Springs to visit the park annually for the past 51 years. The first time the park hit the 1 million mark was in 1962. The report also found that Hot Springs attracts the most visitors and has the largest economic impact of all the national parks and sites in Arkansas.

“The national parks of Arkansas attract millions of visitors a year from across the country and around the world,” said Patricia Trapp, acting director of the National Parks Service’s Midwest Region, which includes Arkansas and 12 other states. “Whether it’s a day trip or a long family vacation, they come for a great experience, and they end up spending money along the way, too. This new report confirms that national-park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service.”

A new National Park Service report shows that the 2.78 million visitors that came to Arkansas’ national parks in 2013 spent $144.3 million and supported 2,000 jobs in the state. The report points out that Hot Springs National Park alone had 1.32 million visitors, and those visitors spent $80.2 million in and around the park, supporting 1,140 jobs.

Along with Hot Springs, Arkansas’ national sites include Pea Ridge National Military Park, the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Buffalo National River, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, the Arkansas Post National Memorial and the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site.

Fernandez said visitor numbers, especially month-to-month counts, usually do not give a complete picture of the popularity of a national park, especially Hot Springs National Park, which actually covers most of the business district of the city of Hot Springs, along with mountains, woodlands and camping areas.

“The numbers on Bathhouse Row are hard to compute,” the superintendent said. “We have people-counting machines at both ends of the park, and sometimes they don’t work very well. And if you cross Central Avenue anywhere other than at the ends or the crosswalks, the machine doesn’t count you.”

Fernandez said the true mark of the impact on the community’s economy is that all but one of the bathhouses have been leased or are in the process of being leased for use.

“Flags are flying on top of almost all the bathhouses,” she said. “It is my goal to have a flag flying over all of them.”

An American flag atop a bathhouse signifies that a business is operating there and is open to the public.

“The economic impact comes from people coming into the Buckstaff Bath House for the traditional Hot Springs bathhouse experience, or the Superior Bath House Brewery or the others now open,” Fernandez said. “That is when foot travel translates into dollars.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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