Best of the West: National parks pump billions into western economies, Arizona wildfire continues, drought prompts donations in Oklahoma

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The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting April 30, 2018, that you don't want to miss. Image: Department of the Interior

National parks in western states contribute billions of dollars to local economies annually, according to a report by the National Park Service. An interactive tool breaks down the number of park visitors by state in 2017, their spending in gateway communities and the number of jobs supported.

Across the country, nearly $36 billion was pumped into hotels, restaurants, transportation and recreation, with the biggest spending in the West, including at Yellowstone, Glen Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park and others.   

In Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park welcomed more than 3 million visitors last year, resulting in a $744 million impact. More than 15 million visitors spent $1.1 billion in Utah, and in California, more than 40 million park visitors supported 25,000 jobs. See the economic impact of national parks in your state.  

Separate reports on tourism in Montana and Wyoming found that it’s not only national parks that bring in significant revenue. The University of Montana's Institute for Tourism and Recreation found that tourists spent an average of 4.7 nights in hotels, campgrounds, vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts across the state in 2017, bringing in $30.7 million in lodging tax revenue. Wyoming saw an 8.9% increase in travel spending last year, thanks in part to last summer’s solar eclipse.

Arizona Wildfire Continues: The Tinder Fire burning in Arizona has claimed 41 homes and prompted The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management to implement fire restrictions earlier than usual. The blaze, which was caused by an abandoned illegal campfire, also resulted in a disaster declaration by Gov. Doug Ducey.  

Parched Prairieland: Drought has hit farmers and ranchers especially hard this season across the West. 19 miles of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico have dried up already, and the state’s largest reservoir is expected to be at just 5 percent capacity this summer. In Oklahoma, farmers are expected to harvest 36 percent less wheat this year, but volunteers across the country are helping ranchers by donating hay to feed hungry cattle.

Snowy Winter Leads to Flooding: A statewide flooding emergency declaration was issued by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock in the wake of recent rainfall and rapid snowmelt. Warm weather and storms are expected over the weekend, which could keep water levels higher than usual.

Farewell to the man behind Burning Man: Larry Harvey, founder of the annual Burning Man festival, passed away recently at age 70. Started in the 1980s in San Francisco, the multi-day event moved to Nevada in 1990 and now draws tens of thousands of off-beat visitors annually. Read more about his legacy.

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