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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2017:10:04 16:31:02

Jim Lockwood file photo / The Times-Tribune Steamtown National Historic Site.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2010:06:24 03:34:32

James Hicks / National Park Service Delaware Water Gap.

by Phil Yacuboski

Nestled along the Delaware River in Monroe County, the population of Delaware Water Gap is only roughly 600 people, according to the latest U.S. Census figures. But what it lacks in a permanent resident base, it makes up for in visitors.

The quaint little borough, which boasts shops and restaurants, is also a major stop along the Appalachian Trail.

“We get a massive number of hikers through the borough,” said Mayor Larry Freshcorn. “It’s very scenic and it’s very important to tourism. Tourism brings in revenue. It’s a big deal for us.”

The Appalachian Trail runs through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, part of the National Park System, which are big business when it comes to tourism, especially in Northeast Pennsylvania.

A new National Park Service report shows the more than 9.7 million visitors to Pennsylvania’s national parks spent more than $467 million in 2018.

“The national parks of Pennsylvania attract visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Northeast Region Director Gay Vietzke. “Whether they are out for an afternoon, a school field trip, or a month-long family vacation, visitors come to have a great experience and end up spending a little money along the way.”

The figures also translate to jobs.

According to the report, spending resulted in more than 7,300 jobs and had a “cumulative benefit” to the state economy of $693 million.

Vietzke said national park tourism is a “significant driver” to the economy. He said it returns $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service.

“It’s a tremendous driver for us,” said Chris Barrett, President and CEO of the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau. “A good portion of the 29 million people who visit are coming here for our state and federal parks.”

Barrett said many come to fish the Delaware River, home to some of the best freshwater fishing in country.

A 2018 report by the National Park System puts the total number of visitors at around 945,000 per year.

He said they are always looking for better ways to market the region to attract even more visitors.

“We have been buying a lot of television time in the New York, Harrisburg, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. markets to attract people,” he said. “We work with the National Park Service to help them, but they are significantly challenged with investing maintenance capital with the park, so we help them with marketing as much as possible.”

While much of the park sees its highest visitors during the summer months, many people like to come for autumn.

“They love the leaves,” he said. “More people are visiting and hiking in the fall.”

Barrett said people come from all over. He recalled a recent conversation he had with a couple who only visited national parks.

“It’s a big draw,” he said.

The Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, began the process of becoming a national park in 1986 through a federal grant thanks to former Congressman Joe McDade. The site, which features old locomotives from the industrial era, gets slightly less than 97,000 visitors per year, according to online data compiled by the National Park System.

“It’s especially great for group travel,” said Alexa Peregrim, group marketing manager, Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau. “It’s a big tour destination. They come here and they spend money at hotels and restaurants.”

She said people visit from all over.

“We get international folks stopping in as well,” she said.