Pay attention, national park managers and staff. If there's nothing else you do well, be sure to keep the restrooms clean and stocked.
That little nugget of advice -- which park staffers are probably well aware of -- was gleaned from a review of some recent demographic surveys conducted for the National Park Service by the Park Studies Unit at the University of Idaho.
For instance, restrooms apparently see more traffic than the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or perhaps they're just more memorable. Strange, but true, according to the visitor survey taken in early October 2008. Of the 781 questionnaires returned (of 1,143 handed out), 90 percent of the respondents indicated that the "most used visitor services/facilities were the restrooms."
The gorgeous hiking trails? They merited mention by just 64 percent of the respondents. A similar survey taken a few months earlier, from June 22-28, 2008, boosted the restroom crowd to 92 percent of respondents, and the trail crowd, too, to 66 percent. Cause and effect, perhaps?
Some other minutiae from a random bunch of surveys:
* Between May 25, 2009, and June 17, 2009, every single visitor who filled out a survey (254 of 340 were handed in) at Homestead National Monument was a U.S. citizen. Ninety-seven percent of those visitors were Caucasian.
* While 81 percent of the visitor groups who toured Homestead during that time period visited the monument's bookstore, just 14 percent "were able to find the sales items in which they were interested."
* From June 15-23, 2009, of the 249 surveys turned in, 97 percent of the visitors to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota were from the United States and ... 98 percent reported that English was "the most commonly used language for communication..."!
* South Dakotans seem to care little about Minuteman Missile NHS, as only 3 percent of the visitors surveyed during that period were from South Dakota.
* At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, only park brochures/maps (83 percent) trumped restrooms (82 percent) when survey takers were asked to name the visitor services and facilities most commonly used.
* Plan ahead for parking if you're going to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park unit in Seattle. According to 220 surveys completed July 5-11, 2009, 12 percent of those folks had parking problems. Once inside, though, things got better. "The service receiving the highest importance rating was restrooms (85 percent)," the study points out. "The services receiving the highest quality rating were restrooms (96 percent) and assistance from park staff (96 percent)."
* Surveys taken February 26-March 3, 2008, and April 29-May 5, 2008, showed that 98 percent of the visitors to Everglades National Park were Caucasian.
* Do smarter park visitors visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park in summer rather than fall? Of the 748 parties who responded to a visitor survey in the park June 22-28, 2008, 28 percent had a bachelor's degree and 22 percent had a graduate degree. That fall, of the 781 who filled out a survey between Oct. 5-11, 28 percent reported they had attended some college, and 25 percent had a high school diploma or GED.
* The average length of a visit to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in early August 2009 was 2.8 days. For comparison's sake, the average length of a visit to Everglades National Park between February 26-March 3, 2008, was 1.2 days.
* Between August 2-8, 2009, just 19 percent of the 854 visitors who filled out a survey in Acadia National Park said they attended a ranger-led program.
* At Bryce Canyon National Park during the time period of July 26-August 1, 2009, 84 percent of the 626 survey respondents stated that the facility they used most was .... the restroom! Parking areas stood second, cited by 74 percent of the respondents
* The average length of stay at James A. Garfield National Historic Site was ... 1.9 hours. Perhaps, in light of that short stay, the restrooms weren't that important, as the top two services and facilities most commonly used by the 241 groups that took surveys were the visitor center (93 percent) and the visitor center exhibits (89 percent).
* Restrooms were mentioned by 81 percent of the visitors to Acadia when they were asked to name the most commonly used facilities.
* Pennsylvania must be rough to handle in winter, as the Keystone State finished second only to Florida in terms of visitors to Everglades National Park with 7 percent of the 370 respondents vs. 32 percent between February 26-March 3, 2008.