Volcanoes National Park sees boost, braces for pinch

Volcanoes National Park sees boost, braces for pinch
Jessica Ferracane
Jessica Ferracane

It turns out the Hawaiian goddess of fire rules the economy as well.

A new study says Kilauea volcano generates about $97 million a year in spending at the national park and surrounding communities. But, the park is also bracing for Friday's sequestration deadline.

From Capitol Hill to the crater at Halemaumau, what happens in Washington could temper this latest report. First, though, the good news: visitors love the volcano.

The newly-released National Park Service study shows that almost one-point-four million visitors toured Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in 2011 - and with them came that economic boost.

"Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the number one visited attraction on this island," says park spokeswoman, Jessica Ferracane, "so the economic impact is quite significant for the island, overall."

The report goes on to say that spending supported almost 1,200 jobs on Big Island - jobs in lodging, food, retail, recreation, transportation, and more. But tourists aren't the only ones doing the spending.

"Our unofficial estimates are, probably, about 99% of the people who visit Hawaii island visit the national parks, but it's not just visitors that are coming to the park. It's also local residents," Ferracane elaborates. Tourism numbers at the park bumped up even more in 2012 to almost one-and-a-half million visitors.

While officials are obviously pleased with the positive report, they're also readying themselves for what could happen on Friday, if Washington can't come up with a budget deal. National parks, including ones in Hawaii, would feel the pinch of cuts. For instance, Volcanoes National Park officials say existing job vacancies wouldn't be filled, and they'd have to explore all their options.

For now, though, they're relishing this latest positive report and looking forward to next month - the fifth anniversary of Halemaumau crater's current eruption.

Overall, Hawaii's seven national parks have seen a significant visitor increase, year after year, since 2010 - supporting 3,300 jobs across the state.

To see specifics of the parks report, log onto www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/products.cfm.

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