Don't Be Surprised To Hear National Park Visitation Dropped Last Year
Nasty weather, sequestration impacts, government shutdowns -- all combined in 2013 to drive down visitation to the National Park System. How much these contributed to the decline, and how much of the drop stemmed from a lack of interest in the national parks, is fodder for debate.
But what is clear, notes Butch Street, who tracks visitation for the National Park Service, is that 2013 had a lot going against park visitation.
Between the government sequestration early last year, the structural hangover from Superstorm Sandy, the shutdown in October, and the typically "soft" counts made around the National Park System, the official 2013 visitation count likely will be down about 5 percent from the year before, according to Mr. Street.
"Certainly, the shutdown didn't help us any. Because it wasn't just 15 days like people think," he said. "It was more like 25 days, because people didn't want to go to any of these destination parks knowing that they would shut down, maybe, in the middle of their vacation.
"Nor did they know when it was going to end. So there was probably another week lag there."
Superstorm Sandy, which slugged its way up the East Coast in November 2012, inflicted a lot of damage that kept some units -- such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Fire Island National Seashore, parts of Gateway National Recreation Area -- closed months into 2013.
The Washington Monument, which typically is visited by more than 600,000 people a year, was closed throughout 2013 while engineers inspected it for damage (and repairs got under way) stemming from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 2011. Ice and snow storms early in 2013 at various times shut down the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Yosemite National Park visitation suffered from the Rim Fire.
"So there was a combination of a lot of stuff. Normally there's one major factor every year, and the other parks cover it. But not this year," he said in assessing 2013 visitation.
The sequestration early in 2013 also led to the end of tours of the White House, which is a unit of the National Park System. That right there knocked about 400,000 off the year's count, which Mr. Street last week estimated was at 269.9 million, though he still had some updating and double-checking to do before arriving at a final figure. Still, he knows the total will reflect a decline from 2012.
"We're definitely going to be down 5 percent. Nobody's going to want to hear that," he said.