Visitor Survey: Grand Teton National Park

An older crowd in Grand Teton National Park might reflect aging America, or be due to the cost of a Jackson Hole vacation, according to a survey. Photo of Jackson Lake against the Tetons by Kurt Repanshek.

A demographic survey on the visitors to Grand Teton National Park has uncovered a disturbing trend: The park's visitors are aging.

That conclusion was reached by the Park Studies Unit at the University of Idaho, which long has conducted visitor surveys for the National Park Service. According to the survey conducted in July 2008 and just recently issued, today's Grand Teton visitor profile is slightly older than the one derived from a similar survey in 1997.

In 2008, 59 percent of the park's visitors were 41 or older, 11 percent were above 65, and just 19 percent were 15 or younger, noted the survey, although it did not list comparable percentages from the 1997 research.

In assessing the aging of Grand Teton's visitors, the researchers commented that, "While this finding in part is reflective of the aging trend in the U.S. population, it may also be in part due to the 'Jackson Effect,' whereby the relatively high cost of vacation services attracts older, more affluent visitors. This may also be why the average group size is small.

"Visitors to Grand Teton NP are getting older. This aging trend has profound implications for Grand Teton NP planners. Today's older visitors have different tastes and interests, physical abilities, spending capacity, and spending interests than visitors of just ten years ago. Readability of brochures and maps, facility design, product selection and placement, pricing, and program design are just a few examples of the management decisions that should be considered in the light of this aging trend."

The 2008 study involved handing out 1,044 questionnaires, of which 739 were returned. Some highlights from the survey:

* Nearly half -- 48 percent -- of the respondents said they were visiting Grand Teton because they were also visiting Yellowstone National Park. Just 17 percent said Grand Teton was their primary destination.

* 77 percent of the respondents said their main activity in the park was viewing scenery and/or taking a scenic drive; hiking/walking rated was the second most important activity at 52 percent.

* When polled about which location received the greatest focus and use, the Jenny Lake area was cited by 70 percent of the respondents. Not surprising, there were more than a few complaints about crowding the Jenny Lake parking lot.

* The concession service/facility receiving the highest quality rating was the park's guided scenic float trip, at 93 percent.

* More people were spending more time in the park. Whereas 45 percent of those surveyed in 1997 said they spent more than one day in Grand Teton, in 2008 that number bumped up to 56 percent.

* Visitor spending more than doubled since the last study was conducted in 1997. In 2008, each visitor group spent on average $1,388 compared to $575 per visitor group in 1997.

According to a 2004 report by Loomis and Caughlin, visitor spending contributes $590 million annually to the greater Jackson Hole area economy and the economic effect of park visitation is responsible for 30 percent of the local income and 56 percent of jobs in both Teton County, Wyoming and Teton County, Idaho.

The most recent survey also showed that more locals were getting out into the national park, as Teton County residents represented 5 percent of the visitors in 2008, up from 2 percent in 1997.

* Domestic visitation came mostly from California (12 percent), Wyoming (7 percent) and Utah (7 percent). Ten percent of total visitation was from international visitors. The greatest number of international visitors hailed from Canada (18 percent), the United Kingdom (17 percent), Germany (10 percent) and the Netherlands (10 percent).

* The overall quality of visitor facilities, services and recreational activities was rated as "good" or "very good" by 96 percent of the respondents in 2008, up from 92 percent in 1997.

* With regard to restaurants and food service in the park, 79 percent said they found the service "good" or "very good." Eighty-one percent had the same judgment about the quality of lodging in the park. However, mean scores of the responses on the quality and importance of both restaurant service and lodging in the park "needs improvement," the survey found.

* Ninety-seven percent of the respondents thought it was either "very important" or "extremely important" that the park's viewsheds be protected. Just 45 percent, however, had the same opinion of Grand Teton's historic sites.

Comments

Well, the historic sites are totally unknown to first-time visitors. So it comes at no surprise to me that those visitors don't rate their importance as high. Who knows about Mormon Row even among the readers of this blog and of this article? Who's been there?

To the vast majority of visitors to Grand Teton NP, the park is first and foremost about the spectaculars views of the mountain ridge. Then follow the river and the lakes. The park flyer does not mention the Mormon settlers or any other historic site in the park. The schematic park map does not show the historic buildings. Even the specific history flyer* does not mention and recommend Mormon Row.

So how could anyone know and care about them.

* http://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/upload/history.pdf

I would agree that the main reason folks head to Grand Teton is to look at the mountains, but am not ready to get entirely behind your argument, MRC. The park map very clearly points out the "Cunningham Cabin Historic Site" as well as "Menor's Ferry Historic District" and even lists Mormon Row, though says nothing to indicate its historic nature.

How one's curiosity wouldn't be peaked driving in the park and seeing signs that point to these areas is beyond me. And you would think that folks planning a visit to Grand Teton and did any homework would have at least an inkling that the region was well traveled by mountain men and so might inquire at the visitors center about historic sites.

The ongoing woes of the NPS websites makes it impossible this morning to call up the park's newspaper, but I'd venture that it mentions at least the cabin and Menor's Ferry, and national park guidebooks that I'm familiar with also mention these sites.

Traveler's Checklist on Grand Teton mentions Mormon Row and points out Menor's Ferry, but sadly doesn't mention the Cunningham Cabin. We'll have to rectify that.

I wonder if any of the trend is a more general trend of younger, working people favoring "staycations" as opposed to heading out to a remote part of the country. Part of this would be due to the economy, of course, which presumably hasn't hit retirees with pensions, etc... quite as hard. Just a thought.

RE: "Nearly half -- 48 percent -- of the respondents said they were visiting Grand Teton because they were also visiting Yellowstone National Park. Just 17 percent said Grand Teton was their primary destination."

That means that 65 percent visited Grand Teton NP as either the primary destination or because they were also visiting Yellowstone NP. Any indication about the remaining 35%? Were they on a tour? Did their GPS give them erroneous directions and cause them to go to Grand Teton NP by accident? :)

I've been to Grand Teton NP three times: the first and third times because I was visiting Yellowstone NP (3 days visiting Grand Teton NP each time), the second time Grand Teton NP was the only destination (14 days in and around Grand Teton NP, mostly in Grand Teton NP).

Along with the money factor for younger families, there is also the fact that kids today are so tethered to their electronic games/gadgets. Now, I know not all of them are, but if you pay attention to tweens/teens in public most of them have some type of electronic gadget in their hands or ears. We made our 1st trip to Yellowstone in 2004 when our younger son was 15. He wasn't all that interested in going ("can't we go back to Disney?") but once we got there he had a great time. Our older son (20 at that point) wasn't in the least bit interested in going & stayed home. A lot of families are probably choosing other destinations because that's where the kids want to go. Too bad. Yellowstone, or any Natl Park, trumps PS3 in my opinion.

Funnily enough, I have a picture of an Old Faithful eruption from that 2004 trip. Beautiful shot with a teen boy (not mine!) sitting on the viewing bench w/his head in his hands as if to say "OK, are we done yet?" Mom & Dad are clicking away with their cameras.