The article presents the methodological assumptions in functional approach for exploring the economic impact of national parks on the local economy. The original model of systemic analysis proposed and discussed in the article allows the broad spectrum of direct and indirect economic relations of national parks with their immediate spatial surrounding to be analysed. The discussion on the economic aspects of national parks’ operation relates to the specic conditions of Poland’s transition economy. The factors determining the economic function of a national park in the local economy include legal regulations which specify the powers of the park’s managing body and regulate the park’s behaviour on the local market; the attractiveness of the park’s location as a tourist destination; the scale of growth and commercialisation of tourism. Also important is the local social and economic context in which the national parks are embedded. Endogenous and exogenous determinants of the operation of Polish national parks determine the dynamic nature of their local economic relations.
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.