Karst Beach

Claire Smith, 9, of Glasgow, Ky., swims near one of the new Wibit inflatables on Thursday, August 16, 2018, at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Mammoth Cave. (Austin Anthony/photo@bgdailynews.com)

Visitors to Mammoth Cave National Park spent $45 million last year, helping support nearly 600 local jobs and generate $61.6 million into nearby economies, according to a new National Park Service report.

“It’s always just good to see how the park is affecting the local community,” said Molly Schroer, spokeswoman for Mammoth Cave National Park.

And the nearby communities also give back to the park. “We benefit from them. They can provide a lot of things that we can’t,” Schroer said.

Mammoth Cave sits within Edmonson, Hart and Barren counties. Lodging expenses, restaurants and nearby recreation industries create economic activity in these “gateway” communities, which include Brownsville, Horse Cave, Cave City, Park City and Bowling Green.

Sandra Wilson, executive director of Horse Cave-Hart County Tourism Commission and president of the Caveland Marketing Association, described Mammoth Cave as the “anchor” in the region.

“Just for us to be on the fringes of Mammoth Cave is important, because we can pull visitors coming through our area. That in itself is a real boon to our economy,” Wilson said.

In her roles, Wilson helps coordinate efforts between the greater cave community’s various tourism and chamber boards to promote tourism both inside and outside the park. The collaboration also includes park staff.

“We work closely with Mammoth Cave. They participate in our monthly meetings,” Wilson said. “The working relationship seems to be improving daily.”

The commission recently worked with the park to connect trails inside and outside the park.

About a month ago, Horse Cave and Cave City became certified Kentucky Trail Towns as a result of the partnership. Brownsville and Park City are applying for the certification, too.

The commission also helped create a Traveler Information Center inside the Park Visitor Center and helps staff the center about 1,400 hours throughout the year.

“Most visitors know little about what’s outside the park. That has allowed us to share everything about the region and encourage them to visit other places and stay longer,” Wilson said.

Greg Davis, executive director of the Cave City Tourist and Convention Commission, similarly described his community as a park gateway.

“We’re the main exit off of (Interstate) 65. That means everything to us,” Davis said. “The traffic getting off the interstate is why we have the motels, restaurants and attractions.

“Any appropriations to the park for additional cave tours and services would be appreciated not only by the park but also the surrounding area.”

Ron Bunch, president and CEO of the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, described Mammoth Cave as a big asset to the community.

“Certainly our business base benefits from traveling tourism in the region,” Bunch said.

Park tourism varies year to year. Annually, the park attracts 500,000 people from around the globe.

There were higher numbers in the past two years for the 2017 solar eclipse and for the 2016 celebration of the National Park Service centennial – the latter helped provide $68 million in economic output, nearly $50 million in visitor spending and 764 jobs.

Thus far this year, visitation numbers have been down due to the government shutdown, which closed the park for about four weeks in January. But Schroer expressed optimism for the park’s ability to “bounce back.”

“We’re looking forward to a good year to come,” Schroer said.

For the full report, which was authored by economists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service, visit nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm.

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggersdailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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