Gateway communities are communities that provide access to federal lands, and they play a key role as entry and exit points for attractions like national parks. These communities provide hospitality services and recreational activities in addition to what is available in parks. The areas directly outside of national parks also provide services and housing to national park employees.
There are 1,038 communities within 1 mile of a national park in the U.S., and 99 million people live within 10 miles of one of these parks. Some of the most famous gateway communities are Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, Gardiner, MT, Tusayan, AZ, and Jackson, WY. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN are the most popular gateways to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They have the most lodging, dining, and attractions of all the communities surrounding the park. Gardiner, MT is the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. The town advertises itself as the premier gateway community to Yellowstone not only due to its year-round access to the natural landscape, but for its authentic small-town feel. Tusayan, Arizona is located only 2 miles from the south entrance of Grand Canyon National Park; local business activity focuses on lodging, retail, and tour services. Jackson, WY is a gateway community for two national parks: Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Besides its proximity to the parks, it is also popular with tourists for skiing.
Why They Matter
Gateway communities and corridors are important because they support the domestic travel and tourism industry. NPS estimates that 329,000 jobs are directly created by national parks, and visitor spending amounts to $20.2 billion annually. Many of these communities also have historical significance so preserving them safeguards the country’s heritage and culture.
The degradation of gateway corridors and communities close to our most cherished national parks and other federal lands seriously diminishes visitor experience and often jeopardizes the fragile ecology of the park itself. With few restraints regarding planning, zoning, vehicular access, cell towers, utility lines or garish signage, some of the worst examples of unabated strip commercial development have emerged at the doorsteps of our national parks and federal lands. This degradation of gateway corridors and communities not only creates visual pollution, but also serious traffic congestion and safety problems for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, not to mention the impacts on local flora and fauna. Unsustainable development can impact vulnerable watersheds, harm wildlife management, create noise, contribute to air pollution and cause habitat loss and degradation. The challenge is to halt and undo the degradation of gateway corridors and communities by engaging with local governments, residents, and the business community to demonstrate the value created by an enhanced gateway experience for visitors.
Gatlinburg was once an example of unsustainable development. However, in recent years the city has made strides to regain its scenic character. In 2008 Gatlinburg adopted architectural guidelines, hillsides and ridges regulations, and a tree protection ordinance. The architectural guidelines illustrate favored principles of responsible building design for the city. The city also started an undergrounding program. In 2012, Gatlinburg completed Phase VI of its under-grounding utilities project, which stretches from the Convention Center to Park boundaries.
Importance to Scenic America
The scenic value that our national parks represent should be reflected in the communities that serve them. Protecting gateway communities advances Scenic America’s mission because these communities and corridors protect the nation’s natural and cultural heritage. Unsustainable development of these areas threatens their scenic qualities of natural beauty and community character. National parks are also inherently connected to the communities around them. Parks do not exist as islands; they are affected by what happens to the environment outside of the park boundaries. Protecting gateway communities will protect the scenic beauty of the park itself.
With proper stewardship and support, gateway communities can generate economic growth for themselves and provide a seamless and enjoyable experience for travelers who visit federal lands, while also ensuring that those land are protected from scenic blight or other harmful development.