Battlefields Mean Business
The Business Benefits of Battlefield Preservation
There are so many reasons to preserve battlefields. Battlefield preservation helps the environment, connects communities, and promotes education. Plus, it just makes economic sense!
In the National Park Service's 2019 Visitor Spending Effects Report, it’s clear that battlefields large and small contribute generously to the economies of their surrounding communities. The data showed a grand total of 18.8 million recreational visits to battlefields managed by the National Park Service (NPS). These visits supported an average of 464 jobs within each surrounding community, producing an average of $14.5 million in labor income.
And while not every battlefield boasts as many annual visitors as Gettysburg, even more modest and remote sites can realize significant impact. In fact, the NPS battlefield with the median visitor spending was Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, located on the Crow Indian Reservation in rural Montana. This battlefield alone was able to attract 241,305 recreation visits, yielding $14,353,000 in visitor spending and supporting 220 jobs
These figures tell only a partial story of how battlefields mean business. Here are five important ways that preserving hallowed ground benefits economies across the country.
Every single economic benefit listed below is thanks to the most important benefit battlefields can bring: visitors. Millions of Americans visit their hallowed grounds every year to remember the nation’s deciding battles, to learn about their history and heritage, to recreate in the beautiful outdoor spaces battlefield parks make, and to bring business t0 local communities.
Looking at the NPS data, the first battlefields that may come to mind- such as Yorktown- pulled in large numbers of visitors in 2019, as many as 3.3 million. However, even lesser-known NPS battlefields were visited by well over 100,000 people, such as Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Missouri, which had 232,000 visitors in 2019, or Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia, which saw 2.6 million visitors.
The American Battlefield Trust reported in 2019, battlefield tourism was on the rise, a trend not disrupted by the pandemic. During the pandemic, many aspects of the tourism industry have been disrupted, but outdoor recreation, including battlefields, have remained attractive. In fact, 15 units of the National Park System reported record visitation in 2020, despite temporary closures and other travel restrictions. Battlefield parks as diverse as Manassas, Minuteman, Shiloh and Stones River all saw noticeably increased visitation over previous years despite not setting all time marks.
When there’s a resource people want to visit, like a preserved battlefield, the surrounding community sprouts business to cater to them. Thanks to what economists call the multiplier effect, local businesses spend the visitor dollars they take in to pay employees, buy goods and cover other expenses. Money these businesses spend can then be spent again by the businesses and individuals who receive it, and so on down the line.
A 2021 report by the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, an area that includes many of the most prominent battlefield parks in Maryland, found that in 2019, 6,376 jobs were supported by battlefield tourism. These jobs included direct employment by the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, as well as indirect jobs created by heritage tourist activity in the community hotels, restaurants and retail stores.
Furthermore, in 2019 the 37 NPS battlefield parks from the Visitor Spending Effects report were able to generate 17,180 jobs. Visitation trends showed a high correlation with the creation of new jobs; every 943 visits in 2019 were associated with one additional new supported job.
To look at this correlation in action: Fort Necessity in Farmington, Pennsylvania was able to generate 293 jobs with 312,000 visitors in 2019.
According to a 2018 study done by The Kentucky Civil War Sites Association, visitors to battlefields in the state spent an average of $258 per trip in the communities they visited in every region. In all of 2018, this spending contributed $10 million to the state’s economy.
This report also found that most of the Kentucky visitors were non-local, meaning they had to travel more than 200 miles to get to whichever park they were visiting. Non-local visitors are particularly likely to subsidize local restaurants and lodgings- a previous study found that 70% of Civil War tourists spend at least one night in the battlefield communities they visit. Reinforcing this fact, the report in Kentucky showed that half of what visitors spent in local communities was on food and lodging.
Another report by the Virginia Tourism Corporation studied tourists’ profiles in 2019. It found that travelers to Virginia with a particular interest in historical sites averaged 3.5 nights and $1,079 in total spending to the local economy per trip. 77% of visitors on these history-centered trips came from out of state, implicating lodging and food expenditure in the community.
In the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area report, it was found that battlefield tourism generates $60.3 million in tax revenues for state and local government annually in Maryland.
Additionally, NPS reports that battlefield visitors to Pennsylvania generated $1.818 million just from the state hotel occupancy tax in 2019, not including additional local taxes.
Revenue from merchandise sales — plus hotel, restaurant and other taxes related to tourism — has a wider-spread economic impact than just the local economy. A previous study found that each visitor to 20 Civil War sites, on average, added $2.92 to local government coffers and $5.22 to state tax revenues. This does not sound like much on an individual level, but it adds up to $11.7 million to local and $21 million to state governments each year.
When we preserve battlefield acres, we often transfer them to the National Park Service, an agency that generated an overall economic impact of over $41 billion in 2019. At NPS parks, visitor spending increased by $800 million from 2018 to 2019 and the overall effect on the U.S economy grew by $1.6 billion.
Battlefield preservation conserves ecosystems, often restoring developed land to its natural state. Preserved land such as this has been shown to be economically beneficial to communities. One report from the Piedmont Environmental Council notes that Virginia’s natural resources provide approximately $21.8 billion each year in ecosystem services, including protection of water, pollination of crops, forest products, farm products, disturbance prevention and carbon sequestration — an illustration of just one way that battlefield preservation is good for the environment.
The economic benefits of battlefield preservation are well-documented. In addition to the regular data and statistical analysis put out by the National Park Service, the Trust has conducted two previous studies delving into the subject. These reports, Battlefields Mean Business and Blue, Gray, and Green are available on our website. Although specific figures may change over time, the trends remain indisputable!