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Does the Byway economy serve all its visitors?

By David Hulse
March 19, 2014

GLEN SPEY, NY — That’s the question that a study for the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway funded by Lumberland through an Upper Delaware Council grant asks.

Earlier this month, the National Park Service (NPS) issued a press release reporting its latest (2012) visitor and economic statistics for the parks. NPS reported 255,586 visitors, accounting for $10,152,000 in economic benefit, supporting 105 area jobs.

The NPS counts people on and in the river, people at their sites, traffic coming and going from those sites and public river access areas.

Another 2013 study concluded that most visitors to scenic and recreational river areas are cultural/heritage and outdoor enthusiast visitors. That study, for the Cultural and Heritage Traveler, ranks five descending levels of interest in these pursuits.

The total of these visitors in the 2013 study only includes 76% of total visitor numbers.

Lumberland Supervisor Nadia Rajsz last week introduced a preliminary report of Lumberland’s study by Fairweather Consulting. That study is largely questioning the interests and spending of the other 24%, the non-heritage travelers, and whether NPS statistics reflect their numbers.

The study also questions whether the NPS counting formula reflects all of the five levels of interest in cultural/heritage and outdoor activities.

If non-heritage visitors are being missed, the actual numbers could be over 300,000, and if the NPS formula is only able to count the smaller number of those most “passionate” of cultural/heritage and outdoor enthusiast visitors, the visitation could be considerably higher. That greater number could generate over $17 million in economic impact.

Noting that the numbers in Fairweather’s preliminary report could change greatly before the report is finalized, Rajsz said it shows the possibility of substantial economic growth along the Scenic Byway if additional services are provided.

According to Fairweather’s preliminary findings, there is “ample room for growth,” and those new services could fill in the “leakage” of visitor spending that occurs when services are not available or as readily available along the Byway.

Fairweather, using statistics from ESRI Business Online, finds that spending leakage exists in “about every tourism-related sector.”

Emphasizing the still unfinished status of Fairweather’s study, Rajsz, who also chairs the board of the Byway, said she wants to present the completed study later this year.