They came, they saw, they spent

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An angler fishes the Miidle Fork of the Flathead at West Glacier.

The old saying is you canít eat the scenery. But it looks like plenty of businesses are making a living off it in Flathead County, according to the latest report from the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Research.

Nonresidents spent an estimated $530 million in 2017 in Flathead County, second only to Gallatin County, which saw almost $660 million.

Statewide spending was $3.24 billion Thatís an increase of 2.6 percent from the previous yearís spending estimate.

In all of Glacier Country, which includes Northwest Montana and counties near Glacier National Park, spending was particularly robust, with over $1.07 billion in spending by nonresident travelers Ė 33 percent of all spending in the state. This spending supported a total of $1.32 billion of economic activity and more than 17,500 jobs, along with over $461 million in associated labor income, the latest study found.

That spending came despite wildfires that ravaged the state in 2017, burning more than 1 million acres. The fires statewide cost about $250 million in lost business, noted Jeremy Sage, economist and associate director at the institute.

The spending correlates with Glacier National Park visitation, which shattered its July visitation record in 2017, with more than 1 million visitors in July alone.

In Flathead County, restaurant and bar spending topped the list of expenditures at about $125 million; second was $73 million of retail sales; third was $63 million on hotels and motels, and fourth was outfitters and guides at $59 million. The outfitters and guides were more than groceries and snacks, which came in fifth at $49 million.

The institute is still gathering data for its 2018 report, which will come out in the first quarter of next year, Sage noted.

The estimates are based on surveys done on the ground of non-residents during the tourist season. All told, the institute does about 12,000 surveys each season. It also examines traffic counts at all major entrances to the state.

The complete report is available online at https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1374&context=itrr_pubs

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