Death Valley boom benefits Ridgecrest economy

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Death Valley boom benefits Ridgecrest economyA graph provided by Death Valley National Park rangers shows a slump in traffic in the early 2000s, followed by a steep increase in more recent years. Experts noted that the increase in the last few years is particularly remarkable considering the closure of Scotty’s Castle after flood damage in 2015, and the inaccessibility of other attractions because of road conditions. — Courtesy graphic

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Another 30-percent spike in travel to Death Valley helped double traffic to the national park over the last nine years.

“I am not sure people in town realize the draw Death Valley creates for the local economy,” said Dan Spurgeon, local hotelier and economic development advocate.

“Death Valley has been an increasing travel trend — their numbers reflect that and so do ours.”

Ridgecrest is the closest full-service community outside of the park — which has somewhat limited (and expensive) lodging options.

“When they fill up, we get the overflow,” said Spurgeon.

“It’s really exciting to see so many people from around the world experiencing and appreciating the beauty of Death Valley National Park,” Superintendent Mike Reynolds announced recently.

In 2018 a record 1,678,660 people visited the park. Reynolds said that although the park stays busy year-round, the busiest month was also one of the hottest — August — which drew a total of 182,929 visitors.

For the visitors staging their trips out of Ridgecrest, Spurgeon noted that December was a record-breaking month.

“Christmas week was phenomenal for us,” he said. “But you would be surprised at how many people still want to go to Death Valley, even when the temperatures are 110, 115, 120 degrees out.”

First-quarter traffic for this year has been slow, said Spurgeon, “but second quarter of this year is going to be great.”

He said that although there is no reliable way to quantify the number of travelers who pass through Ridgecrest, anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands of travelers use Ridgecrest as a stopping place — overnight or otherwise — on their vacations.

“We are sitting right between Yosemite and Death Valley — two of the most beautiful parks in the United States. When the numbers go up for those places, they go up for us,” said Spurgeon.

The environment we live in and our proximity to these tourist attractions create a high-yield, low-impact benefit to our economy.

Over the course of a year, leisure traffic helps add hundreds of thousands of dollars in transient occupancy taxes to city coffers.

Millions more dollars to hotels, restaurants, stores, car renters and fueling stations help introduce new revenue to our otherwise closed market.

“Playing host to tourists is great for our community, but it’s also a reminder for our own enjoyment,” said Spurgeon.

“I think it’s easy for people who live here to take for granted these natural wonders that you can’t find anywhere else. You can stand at the sand dunes and look out at the horizon to see snow-capped mountains.

The vistas we offer here can’t be found in a major metropolitan area.

“And then there are the stars. I still recall vividly, and it was more than 10 years ago for me, walking out and looking up for the first time at the Milky Way. It’s mesmerizing.”

Story First Published: 2019-04-05