Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Jordan W. Smith


Jordan W. Smith


Wayne Freimund


Danya Rumore


Many rural towns in the western united states have come to be defined by high levels of tourism, seasonal residents, and migration driven by the desire to be close to natural amenities and the higher quality of life they afford. This shift is especially apparent in communities that are “gateways” to natural amenities such as national parks. Embracing this shift towards the “New West,” many community planners have heralded amenity-led development as a remedy to the waning feasibility of relying on agriculture and extractive industries. However, anecdotal evidence and several case studies indicate the factors which make these gateway communities unique can lead to a lower incomes and increased income inequality. This work is a regional study of the factors that effect income generation and distribution in western gateway communities near national parks. Through an examination of the literature, seven unique variables were identified as having the potential to effect income and income inequality in gateway communities; these variables were: park visitation, proximity to park visitor’s center, number of other gateway communities within 16.1 km (10 miles) of the park, the population size of the gateway community, it’s migration rate, it’s proportion of seasonal residential units, and it’s proportion of jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry.

Using data from the American Community Survey as well as open-source GIS, I investigate two primary research questions: Research question 1: Are there significant trends in the income profiles of gateway communities? And, do these trends in income profiles differ from comparable non-gateway communities? Research question 2: Are there significant relationships between the unique characteristics of gateway communities and the income generation and distribution within these communities?

Results suggest a negative trend in gateway community earnings from 2010 to 2019. In addition, gateway communities have had significantly lower mean earnings than comparable benchmark communities. The proportion of in-migration, the proportion of seasonal residential units, the proportion of jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry, and the interaction between the latter two variables had a significant and negative impact on income in gateway communities. In my discussion, I detail how these results can guide community planning and decision making within gateway communities outside of national parks.