Visits to national parks set record This May 5, 2015, file photo, shows hikers on the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File/AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, file)
Visits to national parks set record
Lexile

Visits to U.S. national parks set a record in 2016 for the third consecutive year as landmarks such Zion, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain experienced historic levels of popularity that brought collateral headaches stemming from overcrowded roads and trails and increasing visitor misbehavior.
 
At many parks, visitors waited an hour or more in cars to get through entrance gates and then spent the day trying to outmaneuver fellow visitors for parking spots and room on popular trails. They left behind enormous amounts of trash and sometimes, human waste.
 
Encountering a crowded, Disneyland-like situation when people were expecting peaceful serenity can lead to aggression and bad decisions, park officials said.
 
"The level of frustration, we've certainly seen an increase in that," said Kyle Patterson, Rocky Mountain National park spokeswoman. "Sometimes they take it out on each other and sometimes they take it out on a park.
 
It created a good news-bad news story for park managers. They praise the increased interest but are struggling to preserve iconic mountains, slot canyons and wildlife habitat for future generations. The National Park Service budget has remained basically flat, leaving parks to grapple with the problems without higher staffing levels.
 
"We love having people come to the park," said John Marciano, Zion National Park spokesman. "But our No. 1 goal, our mandate, is to preserve the park into perpetuity and to ensure our visitors have a best of kind and safe experience."
 
Overall visitation to national parks is on track to surpass 325 million in 2016, breaking the all-time high of 307 million set in 2015, federal figures show. The record-breaking three-year stretch came after parks visitation ebbed and flowed between 255-287 million for nearly three decades.
 
The National Park Service launched a major marketing campaign to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2016, including free passes for every fourth-grader and their families. That renewed attention coupled with reasonable gas prices and an improved economy likely fueled the increase, said National Parks Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson.
 
The agency's "Find Your park " campaign will continue this year and officials expect to surpass 300 million visitors again even if there's no record, Olson said.
 
Absent December totals, the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona hit 5.9 million visits. Yellowstone, which stretches into Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, had 4.3 million visits.
 
The final year tally for Rocky Mountain in Colorado was 4.5 million. Zion in southern Utah had 4.3 million visitors - nearly double the 2010 total.
 
Cramming all those people into the narrow confines of Zion where most visitors want to see the same iconic slot canyons and trails has led many days to hour-long waits to get in the park, lots that fill up by 9 a.m. and crowded shuttles, Marciano said.
 
"Then, you hike like ducks in a row up the trail because there are so many going up the same trail," Marciano said. "That's not what we want."
 
One employee spent her entire summer hiking every day to the popular Angels Landing trail to clean and put more toilet paper in two portable toilets designed for 40 visits daily that had 200, he said.
 
Both Zion and Yellowstone are reassessing how to create better crowd plans and Zion is considering a reservation system for park entries and a daily visitor limit.
 
Even though it is prohibited, more people are taking dogs on trails in the Rocky Mountain park. Visitors are also parking cars on native vegetation or fragile alpine tundra and leaving human waste right near backcountry trails, Patterson said.
 
This summer, for the first time, the park limited the number of cars allowed on two popular roads on certain days, she said.
 
After Yellowstone hit 4 million visitors for the time in 2015, park spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said the park implemented the "Yellowstone Pledge" last year urging visitors to follow guidelines that include not stopping on the side of the road to look at bears and staying on boardwalks. A man who stepped off a boardwalk died last year after falling into a boiling, acidic spring.
 
Yellowstone has also implored visitors to take "safe selfies" by staying far away from wild animals.
 
"They want that perfect picture so they're driven to get closer and closer to the point they're risking their own safety," Warthin said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What are the downsides to this record?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (23)
  • monicas-ste
    1/27/2017 - 01:32 p.m.

    I'm sure people enjoy going. National parks are so awesome. It's great more people are visiting them.

  • irisp-ste
    1/30/2017 - 09:22 a.m.

    I think it is great that the visitation rates have reached new records. Environmental issues have become more prominent than ever, so it shows that citizens due to care about preserving nature and out national parks. Hopefully the visitors will appreciate their surroundings rather than disturbing it and the animals.

  • charleyh1-pla
    1/30/2017 - 02:01 p.m.

    This article discusses a variety of reasons why the National Parks system had an abundance of visitors hitting record highs. Also, the article states problems the crowd brought along with some solutions to wrap up the year.
    I enjoyed learning about the record crowds, the problems and solutions. Somehow I did not know about this despite my intense love for the environment and National Parks system. Someday I hope to visit some of these parks!
    While the article contained grammar and spelling errors, overall the information was well-rounded.

  • cassidyk-pla
    1/31/2017 - 08:36 a.m.

    This article talks about the steady increase in people's interest to see America's national parks over the last three years. Since the parks have been used more than expected, they are getting run down with lack of staff to keep up the daily maintenance. Things like parking and overcrowded trails have become a problem as well. I do believe that being civilly engaged means visiting these parts since they hold a lot of history. So it's good to see that people have re-sparked their interests in place like this. This article was very interesting to read especially since I have visited a few of these places myself.

  • nickm1-pla
    1/31/2017 - 07:27 p.m.

    National parks are close to hitting an all time high in visits, potentially due to lower gas prices, promotions and an improved economy. Free passes given out to all 4th graders and their families. Increased visitation does show negative effects as well. Increased litter and poorer visiting conditions.

    Shows renewed civic engagement in America, particularly with interest in the environment. More people are feeling drawn to the parks in new, better financial circumstances. Also shows civic efforts from park staff to keep parks protected no matter how many visitors come and go.

  • lukej1-pla
    1/31/2017 - 11:03 p.m.

    The article delves into a number of downfalls experienced by the National Parks as their attendance has begun to rise in the last year. As more people visit these National Parks throughout the US, they start to face administrative challenges in terms of overflow parking and poor treatment of the parks by the patrons. The lines are much longer and guests having been leaving trash and human waste all over the parks. Aside from just being decent human beings and treating the parks with respect, the organizations also wish to emphasize how important it is to follow posted guidelines and rules, as one man recently died in an acidic pit.

    I liked the article. I thought it was pretty interesting, because one wouldn't generally tend to think of all the collateral side effects that accompany higher attendance and piqued interest in National Parks. I guess I always just assumed people would have enough respect for the preservation of our National Parks and wildlife that the poor treatment wouldn't be an issue, but this opened my eyes.

  • jacob13-war
    2/02/2017 - 12:30 p.m.

    The downsides to this record are more pollution could occur inside the park because of the population increase. Another downside is that people are taking dangerous selfies such as a man that fell into acidic spring in Yellowstone.

  • kaileew-ste
    2/02/2017 - 08:05 p.m.

    A 2016 record was set when so many visitors visited national parks. There were over 325 million people that showed up beating the 307 million record in 2015. This is a lot of people!

  • zakrym-ste
    2/03/2017 - 01:09 p.m.

    I think that is is good that they are setting records. It shows the appreciation people have for the natural things Earth have made. Maybe this will bring more environmental issues to light.

  • johannaw-cel
    2/06/2017 - 10:09 a.m.

    More people than ever are visiting US National Parks such as Zion, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain. This has good and bad sides. Of course, it is good that more and more people are interested in visiting national parks and experiencing the nature but when to many people are coming the parks are crowded. An officer said that this can lead to aggression and bad decisions when you expected a peaceful serenity but
    experience a crowded, Disneyland-like situation. That leads to more and more people throwing their trash in the nature which makes it hard to preserve national parks for future generations. In my opinion there should be a limited number of visitors per day to prevent the pollution of those national parks.

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