A Cautionary Tale About Inflated Numbers

Despite the fact that Congressman Scott Tipton has permanently abandoned any attempt to introduce legislation creating a restrictive national park where the Colorado National Monument now stands, you can bet that if Mark Udall wins in 2014 this issue will again rear its ugly and divisive head. The GJ Sentinel ran a recent editorial citing Pinnacles National Park as a remarkable example of economic benefit to nearby communities. But, as the editors of the Sentinel are wont to do, they omitted some critical facts relevant to their case. Here, author, historian and outdoors man Charles Quimby, clarifies and corrects that narrative.

pinnacles

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If you haven’t yet made up your mind about the Colorado National Monument/National Park question, let me offer one piece of advice. Never rely on numbers provided by local boosters—even if they are reported in your local newspaper.

The latest example appeared in a recent glowing report on the new Pinnacles National Park, suggesting similar economic results might be bestowed on us.

Pinnacles became a national park in January 2013, and according to local boosters in nearby Soledad, California, visitation is up 30% from its monument days. Local sales tax revenues are up 20%—even better than the 11% figure the same source gave a California reporter at the end of June!

At first I thought, maybe it’s true. A first year jump in attendance wouldn’t be unheard of, and it’s not hard to show a big percentage increase in a small economy. (Soledad, after all, has only one motel and a population of about 26,000, 40% of whom are incarcerated.)

But just to make sure, I checked the annual and monthly visitation data reported by the National Park Service for every park and monument in the country. 

It’s true attendance went up at Pinnacles in 2013 over 2012, although only by 6%. But 2013 was lower than in 2011 or 2010. One would have to go further back in history to come up with a 30% increase. 

Okay, maybe they meant so far in 2014. Nope. According to NPS numbers, each month has been well below the same month last year. At this rate, it’s likely 2014 will fall back to 2012 levels, a pattern seen in other monument-to-park conversions.

Making local economic boosters stick to the facts is beyond my powers, but I still hold out hope for better fact-checking of anecdotes and balanced reporting in my local paper.

Charles Quimby  July 9, 2014

Endnote courtesy of Kent Carson: 

Coincidentally, the city of Soledad raised its sales tax rate by 20% at the end of 2012.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”~ Mark Twain

 

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