National Parks Attendance is at an All Time High

National Parks Attendance is at an All Time High

For the third year in a row, the US National Parks set an all-time attendance record in 2016 with over 325 million people visiting the 127 parks across the United States. The previous record was set in 2015 with 307 million visitors, and prior to the past three years attendance ranged around the 260-270 million visitors mark.

The most popular parks in 2016 were the Grand Canyon at 5.9 million visitors, Rocky Mountain National Park at 4.5 million visitors, Yellowstone National Park at 4.3 million visitors, and Zion National Park at 4.3 million visitors.

The increase in attendance has been great for increasing awareness of the parks, but like most things, the attendance is a double-edged sword.  The National Park Service is elated that so many people want to visit the parks, but it also noted some of the issues that came along with the crowds: damage to areas around walking paths, an increase in litter, more injuries (human and animal) from visitors trying to interact with animals, and an increased number of people who refused to follow the few rules the parks have.

Park goers were also met with difficulties as they tried to enjoy the serenity of nature and the beauty of the parks. The issues arose before most people even got to the parks as they were met with long lines of traffic that resembled something more like the entrance of a theme park than a national park. Once they made it through the gate, most people were tasked with finding, and fighting over, a parking spot. Once parked, the struggle did not end as the most popular trails were usually filled with people. It was a far cry from the solitude that most visitors were imagining, which caused a lot of outrage leading to bad decisions throughout the year. One thing that was surprising was the amount of vandalism that occurred in parks in 2016. Regardless of how many people attended, any level of vandalism is alarming.

The National Parks Service is not scheduled for a budgetary increase anytime in the near future, despite the rapid increase in visitors. With millions of people attending and no increase in funding, the National Park Service is scrambling to find a solution to the problems they are encountering without the ability to hire more staffing or expand parking areas. One interesting idea that is picking up some traction is pre-registration and attendance caps going hand in hand. The idea revolves around giving the National Parks Service a better understanding of how many people they can expect on each day. The attendance cap would help create a better experience for park-goers by easing the size of the crowds. Pre-registration could be done online or over the phone. The project is just in the planning phase, but it could go into effect as soon as next year.

National Parks Service Announces 10 Free Days in 2017

National Parks Service Announces 10 Free Days in 2017

General Sherman, the largest tree on earth in Sequoia National Park in California. The otherworldly hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, Utah. The wondrous, diverse landscape of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Sixty-foot faces carved into solid rock on Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota. These are just a few of the wonders that can be found in America’s 58 national parks.

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service had a birthday. It turned 100 years old. In honor of that milestone, the entrance fee to all national parks will be waived for ten days in 2017.

These are the days you’ll be able to see these wonders without charge:

January 16 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February 20 Presidents’ Day
April 15-16 and 22-23 Weekends of National Park Week
August 25 National Park Service birthday
September 30 National Public Lands Day
November 11-12 Veterans Day weekend

What’s Free and What’s Not

These free days include:

• Entrance fees
• Commercial tour fees
• Transportation entrance fees

They do not include:

• Boat launch fees
• Camping fees
• Transportation
• Third-party fees and special tours

Any fourth grade student can get a free annual pass to all national parks through the Every Kid in a Park program. Also, active military personnel and those with a permanent disability are entitled to a free annual pass.

In the national park system, 124 parks charge an entrance fee, and these fees range from $3-$30. In 2015, 307 million people visited America’s national parks. The most visited national park is Great Smoky Mountains National park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Second is the Grand Canyon.

If you want to continue your exploration of national parks, you can obtain an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass for $80. This annual pass allows unrestricted entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all 413 national parks.

Why Visit

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in the press release, “National parks are known for their priceless beauty. On these ten days in 2017, they really will be priceless. We want everyone to visit their national parks and the fee free days provide extra incentive to experience these amazing places.”

Whether visiting a park for the first time or returning to an old favorite, take advantage of these ten free days in 2017 to taste, in the words of environmentalist and historian Wallace Stegner, “the best idea we ever had,” America’s national parks.

This blog was originally published at www.juddbagley.com.