If you visited Bryce Canyon National Park last year and thought it was busy, you were right. The park counted a record 1.78 million visitors, which is pretty impressive for such a relatively small place.
Meanwhile, across the country at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2010 visitation remained steady from 2009, an achievement in light of the various road projects and contrary weather patterns.
At Bryce Canyon, the 1,782,333 visitors represented an increase of 7.24 percent from 2009. That's quite a lot, when you consider the park is only 56 square miles and the bulk of those visitors stick close to the 18-mile-long road that runs north-to-south through the park.
More than 50 percent of those visitors are from around the world, too, according to park officials.
"Though visitation has been on the rise since 2001, last year’s increase could be attributed to the high cost of fuel, Americans vacationing closer to home, the National Park Service’s free‐fee weekends, the value of the dollar for international travelers, special events (such as the astronomy and geology festivals) in the park and greater promotion from local businesses, communities and the National Park Foundation’s Electronic Field Trip broadcast," Bryce Canyon officials said.
At Great Smoky, meanwhile, the 9.46 million heads counted was just a tad below 2009's visitation, which saw 9.49 million turn out to enjoy the park during its 75th birthday year.
When compared to 2009 monthly visitation, 2010 started out with decreases during the first three months: January (-6%), February (-28%) and March (-3%), park officials reported. April recorded the first increase of the season (+10%) with succeeding months in May and June reflecting increases (+1 percent, +15 respectively). July entries were flat, August entries dropped (-9 percent), and September reflected no change. While October saw a large increase (+19%), November reflected a large decrease (-12%). December was off significantly by 35 percent.
“A number of anomalies occurred in park visitation this year that may explain the visitor use patterns we received,” said Great Smoky Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “Extreme weather in 2010 left its mark on Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from a cold chilling winter to sweltering heat in summer."
Park records show that there above-average snowfall in the high elevations caused more frequent closures of Newfound Gap Road and other park roads January through March and then again in December. Both February and December marked record snowfall at Mt. LeConte (6,593 feet), 52 inches and 53 inches, respectively. Then during the summer months, a heat wave hit and the park recorded a long string of 90-plus temperatures in the low country with August seeing above average highs.
For the first time in several years, autumn foliage, which typically attracts hundreds of thousands leaf seekers, peaked on time in October and not in November as in past years, something that might account for the changes recorded, park staff said.
“Other occurrences that had both negative and positive influences on park numbers during the first part of the year were several landslides on primary thoroughfares through the mountains both in and outside the park," Superintendent Ditmanson said.
The most significant one was the landslide that closed all lanes on Interstate 40 at the North Carolina and Tennessee border from October 2009 through April 2010. During this impasse, travelers used the park’s Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) as a detour, which park officials said most likely pushed April visitation up.
Camping in the park’s 10 developed frontcountry campgrounds reflected a yearly decrease, park officials reported. A total of 310,662 camper nights was recorded, a 2 percent decrease from 2009 levels. Backcountry camper nights were flat, totaling 79,480.