The article is addressing the problem of local authorities seeing in national parks a stimulus or a barrier for local development in Poland. The results of surveys conducted among representatives of authorities of selected municipalities (n=61), in which there are national park areas show that the assessment of the role and impact of this type of protected areas varies. In most cases the presence of national parks is viewed positively. Emphasis is put on their importance to the local socio-economic development. The economic benefit is seen mainly in the tourism sector and the development of associated services. However, local communities experience many restrictions resulting from functioning of protected areas, especially in regard to the possibility of increasing revenues to the budgets of municipalities, production entrepreneurship development and intensification of agricultural production and fisheries. It is believed that in the future parks should stimulate local development to a larger extent. To achieve this, it is necessary to see a national park as a system linked to the socio-economic environment and to take planning actions based on a holistic look at natural, social and economic issues of a national park and its neighbourhood. The cooperation between local authorities, parks’ management, non-governmental organisations and local tourism business should be strengthened as well as steps should be taken in order to increase social participation in shaping the development of these areas.