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    Report outlines national parks’ impact in Virginia

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Virginia's national park sites yielded nearly $1 billion in economic benefits with more than 23 million visits in 2012, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

    The report outlined 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, nearly 23.4 million recreation visits were recorded in 2012 at Virginia's national park sites that include 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, visitors in Virginia spent $926.3 million while visiting national parks in 2012, supporting more than 13,250 jobs in Virginia. Lodging accounts for most of that spending, followed by restaurants and bars, groceries, gas and souvenirs, admissions and fees.

    "Virginia is a significant state in terms of its total visitation and visitors love to see these great parks in Virginia," National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

    Overall, the national park system received 282.8 million recreation visits in 2012. Park visitors nationwide spent a total of $14.7 billion in local communities.

    "These places of history, culture and natural wonder offer unparalleled experiences and return $10 for every $1 American taxpayers invest in the National Park Service," Jarvis said.

    The National Park Service has been measuring and reporting visitor spending and economic effects for the past 24 years. The latest report changed the way it had calculated visitor spending for the last 14 years, meaning the report's numbers aren't directly comparable to previous figures.

    A separate report released Monday said Virginia lost more than $20 million in visitor spending during the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013. Nationally the shutdown led to a decline of 7.88 million visits and a loss of $414 million in visitor spending.

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