Point Reyes Station, a pastoral West Marin outpost, has a population of 848. But on one recent weekday, parking is tight on the town’s main street and there is a steady stream of foot traffic.
Steve Costa, co-owner of Point Reyes Books, has an easy explanation. He points to the 2.3 million visitors who flocked to Point Reyes National Seashore last year. He says 70 percent of his customers com from outside the area.
“I don’t think any business on Main Street would exist without this flow of constant visitors,” says Costa.
A study from the National Park Service this week found that three North Bay parks generated $445 million in visitor spending in 2011. Point Reyes National Seashore accounted for $93 million in tourism impact and helped support over 1,000 jobs in the area.
That’s no surprise to Michael Zilber, the retail manager for the Tomales Bay Food Barn, which houses the artisinal cheese shop Cowgirl Creamery.
While a pair of out-of-state tourists ooh and aaah over the cheeses at the counter behind him, Zilber explains the founders actually chose the location in part because of the nearby park.
“The idea was to service those visitors with great local artisinal food to bring on their picnics,” says Zilber. “And in doing so really grow an appreciation not only of the park but of the great agricultural history of the area too.”
Many of the visitors are daytrippers from the Bay Area. Like Mary Ann Miller. She’s visiting from San Rafael. She says she first came to check out the park’s lighthouse. “Then I discovered the Bear Valley visitors center,” says Miller. “And then I started doing all the history walks out there. So [in the past year] I’ve made about a dozen trips out here.”
Each time, she says, she comes into town and spends between 20 and 30 dollars at the bookstore and food shops.
The big ticket item in the area, though, is lodging.
At the café down the block, local Karen Gray has stopped in for an afternoon pick-me-up. She’s lived here for 40 years. Twenty-five years ago she says she started renting out a cottage in the back of her house to visiting families. Now she rents out four guest cottages.
Gray says Marin County promotes tourism without opening up to big chains. She says that helps residents and also maintains the area’s character.
“We’ve managed to do that with small hospitality places that will welcome a family or three or four guests at a time,” says Gray.
A few locals did say the visitors are a double-edged sword. A house painter who didn’t want to give his name said it’s great to have the economic benefit, but sometimes the crowds can be overwhelming.
John Dell’Osso, the chief of interpretation and resource education at Point Reyes National Seashore says the park has worked with local businesses in the past to try to do some special events.
“We had a whole week of activities,” says Dell’Osso. “We worked with the businesses on these to see would this generate some more business for them.”
Dell’Osso says the effect was small, but positive. As far as the impact of spending cuts from the “sequestration” going into effect today, Dell’Osso says the impact is an open question.
“There will be some impact to park visitors, what we don’t know is how are they going to react to it,” says Dell’Osso. “Will they cut their trip shorter, are they not going to come because a visitors center isn’t open on a particular day?”
All together the report says the three local parks–Point Reyes, Muir Woods and Golden Gate National Recreation Area–helped create 3,400 jobs in 2011. The biggest economic engine was the Golden Gate National Recreation Area whose visitors spent almost 300 million dollars that year.