The giant saguaro cactus “draws visitors from ... around the world,” says Saguaro Park Superintendent Leah McGinnis.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star 2016

The 964,759 people who visited Saguaro National Park last year had a positive impact on the local economy — to the tune of more than $88 million — according to a new National Park Service report.

Visitors spent $60.7 million in Tucson and other communities near the park and the spending supported 866 jobs — providing a cumulative economic benefit of $88.6 million, the report says.

Saguaro Park officials say the park’s dramatic landscapes and namesake cactus superstars attract legions of visitors, many of whom stay in the community for several days.

“The giant saguaro cactus, an iconic symbol of the American Southwest, draws visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Leah McGinnis, superintendent at the park. “Visitors can experience exceptional wilderness, scenic views and a richly diverse ecosystem, all in close proximity to a large urban community.”

Those attractions, McGinnis said, have helped increase visitor attendance at Saguaro Park in recent years.

The park attracted 753,440 visitors in 2015 and 820,420 in 2016 before reaching a new high of 964,759 in 2017, she said.

The cooler months of the year — no surprise — are the busiest at Saguaro Park.

“I think the weather has a lot to do with it,” McGinnis said. “In the winter, people like to get out of the snow” and enjoy warm desert days.

NATIONAL FINDINGS

The Saguaro National Park economic impact data in the report was part of a peer-reviewed visitor-spending analysis conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service.

The analysis resulted in these overall findings for parks around the nation:

  • $18.2 billion of direct spending by more than 330 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park.
  • The spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally, resulting in a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $35.8 billion.
  • The lodging sector received the highest direct contributions, with $5.5 billion in economic output to local gateway economies and 49,000 jobs. The restaurants sector received the next-greatest direct contributions with $3.7 billion in economic output to local gateway economies and 60,500 jobs.

National park visitation grew by 7.7 percent from 2015 to 2017, which included the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@tucson.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz