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Reader Participation Day: Is The Current Level Of Visitation To National Parks A Concern?


Should the steps leading to Turret Arch in Arches National Park always be crammed with visitors to indicate a healthy National Park System? Kurt Repanshek photo.

Latest visitation figures show that tourism to the National Park System dipped somewhat in 2010, dropping from 285.5 million in 2009 to 281.3 million last year. Is that a concern?

Some would say that if you spent a summer day in the Yosemite Valley or on the apron of the Old Faithful Geyser or on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon you'd be hard-pressed to say the parks are struggling as a tourism destination.

But others point to that 281.3 million figure and start to worry about the lure of the parks, even though in 2008 the number was 274.8 million.

If you think the 2010 visitation tally of 281.3 million is a concern, why do you think the number slipped, and what do you think can or should be done to increase visitation?


I wonder how many people visited Disneyworld and Disneyland this past year. Have their numbers gone down? Somehow I don't think so. And talk about crowding.

Danny Bernstein

Owen, the key to it all is cooperation between those whose businesses depend on the park and the park.

Zion's success came about because the park's management reached out to the community of Springdale and the community reached back.  It has been a winner for everyone.

Owen-- I agree with you-- being in Yosemite valley in the summer during a weekend is a real nightmare with all the cars!!

For many of the parks that are "overcrowded", the problem is not the number of people, but the number of private cars.  Keep the car out of Cades Cove and Yosemite Valley and just watch what will happen.  Yes, park visitation might drop somewhat, due to the perceived inconvenience of parking the car outside of the park and entering the park using a public transportation service, as is now the case for Zion Canyon. 

With the eleminatinon of the private car, especially from park areas that suffer from "overcrowding," in-park crime will dissapate.  Park rangers will be able to spend more time on visitor contact and interpretation than on investigation, search and apprehension of law breakers.

But, I expect that any attempt by the NPS to reduce the number of cars in an "overcrowded" park will meet with fierce opposition, mostly made up of those whose livelihoods depend on profits from industrial toursim.  Such opposition essentially forced the NPS to scrap the 1980 General Management Plan for Yosemite, which recommended ultimate removal of the private car from Yosemite Valley.

Yet, the Yosemite Valley experience would be enhanced greatly without th presence of private cars in the valley floor, just as the Zion Canyon experience has been enhanced by successfully replacing private cars with the Zion Canyon/Springdale, UT shuttle service.

The one thing we noticed this year in the parks was the low numbers of American tourists-- the vast majority of visitors appeared to be from other countries. What a shame more American's don't visit the parks. I think the bad economy has a lot to do with it.

I agree with everything you said about Curry Village.  It is basically an overpriced slum.  I stayed there this summer and when I checked in I was told that the NPS was telling Delaware North that there prices were too high.  My refund?  A couple of dollars.  I'm not kidding. 
I should have booked in El Portal.  It would have cost me more but I would have had clean private showers and a real bed.  I wouldn't have heard my neighbor snoring or his baby waking up at 4am.  But as long as Curry Village and the other Delaware North properties are always full, the lousy conditions will continue. 

Second we must rebel against the concessionaires at the popular parks who offer little more then a bed for $180/night and a disgusting burger for $10. Many of you will say just camp and bring your own food but sorry to tell you, most Americans don’t camp. Truthfully, is Xanterra benefitting or hurting the NPS. Given my experiences, I would opt for other options.

Xanterra is doing a bangup job compared to Delaware North in Yosemite.  I've never stayed in such appalling accommodations in a national park in my life.  At Yellowstone, I can stay in a clean, comfortable cabin I can drive my car right up to, with sparkling showers a few yards away, a short walk from Old Faithful itself, for less than $80 a night.  In Yosemite Valley, I get a filthy tent cabin a quarter of a mile from where I have to hunt for a parking space in a lot the size of New York, and showers that didn't look like they'd been cleaned since the beginning of the season, for $120 a night. 

Delaware North treats Yosemite as a cash cow.  I know part of it is that Yosemite Valley is unbelievably overcrowded in the summertime (this was the first time I'd ever been there in the summer -- when I actually lived in California, we always went in the off-season), but part of it is that Delaware North's PTBs just don't care.  There's no other explanation that fits.

So far as the original question goes, where the parks were basically shot in the foot was in the beginning, when Congress gave them that expletive-deleted mutually exclusive directive, to preserve the parks and to make them accessible.  You can't have it both ways.  But I suspect that without that expletive-deleted mutually exclusive directive, the park service would have died a horrible death long ago.  There's just no way out of this one.

What you said about the Utah parks is true.  A ranger told me that 50% of Bryce Canyon visitors are from France and Germany alone.   Europeans love Death Valley in the summer.  They have nothing like either place in Europe.  But why more Americans don't go is a mystery to me (aside from the economy).

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