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
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Visits to U.S. national parks set a record in 2016. The record was set for the third consecutive year. Landmarks such Zion, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain experienced historic levels of popularity. But these brought headaches, as well. They stem 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. Then they spent the day trying to outsmart 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. She is 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 they are struggling to preserve iconic mountains, slot canyons and wildlife habitat for future generations. The National Park Service budget has remained basically flat. That leaves parks to cope with the problems without higher staffing levels.
 
"We love having people come to the park," said John Marciano. He is the 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. That would break the all-time high of 307 million. It was 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. Officials expect to surpass 300 million visitors again even if there's no record, Olson said.
 
Absent from December totals, the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona hit 5.9 million visits. Yellowstone stretches into Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The park 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. That was nearly double the 2010 total.
 
Cramming all those people into the narrow confines of Zion can be a problem. Most visitors want to see the same iconic slot canyons and trails. Many days that has led to hour-long waits to get in the park. It has also led to 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. They are designed for 40 visits daily but had 200, he said.
 
Both Zion and Yellowstone are reassessing how to create better crowd plans. Zion is considering a reservation system for park entries. It also might include 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. Some are leaving human waste right near backcountry trails, Patterson said.
 
On certain days last summer, the park limited the number of cars allowed on two popular roads, she said. It was the first time that was necessary.
 
After Yellowstone hit 4 million visitors for the time in 2015, park spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said the park offered the "Yellowstone Pledge." The pledge urged visitors to follow guidelines. These included not stopping on the side of the road to look at bears and staying on boardwalks.
 
Yellowstone has also implored visitors to take "safe selfies." That includes 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 (78)
  • emmar1-bla
    1/27/2017 - 10:37 a.m.

    The downsides to setting these records are the people leave huge amounts of trash behind. Since there are so many people entering the parks, there is huge amounts of trash being left behind. Also, with allowing so many people into the parks these people are harming some of the wildlife in the parks.

  • samanthas-1-ste
    1/27/2017 - 12:59 p.m.

    The downside to this record is that there are a lot of people and the park cant keep up with some of the management. Also, the roads are being used a lot so people have to wait and they litter.

  • nicholasw-bla
    1/27/2017 - 01:02 p.m.

    The downsides are that people are leaving human waste right near backcountry trails. Another downside is people are parking cars on negative vegetation or fragile alpine tundra.

  • spencerk-bla
    1/27/2017 - 01:15 p.m.

    Visits to national parks and landmarks in the U.S set records for three continuous years. Yet, all this good setting records have a downside. Just like everything has a downside. When a lot of people would visit, there would be a lot of traffic and people would leave Huge amounts of litter and even sometimes Human waste! There is many campaigns about the 300 million Surplus of visitors. Lots of visitors were talking about when you walk up trails in a single file row walking in front and behind someone. People said its now what they want.

  • brookeg1-smi
    1/27/2017 - 02:39 p.m.

    It is very good that people want to be outside and visit nature at the National Parks but at the same time it is bad. But how is it bad? Well for example people could be damaging the national parks and not even realizing it. Another reason it is bad is that each bathroom should only take in about 20 people, but the restrooms are taking in almost 200 people.

  • brookeg1-smi
    1/27/2017 - 02:44 p.m.

    Tt is wonderful how people want to spend time with nature and choose the national parks but they could be damaging it all at the same time without knowing it. For example, the restrooms there are only supposed to take in around 20 people a day, but as of right now the restrooms are taking in close to 200 people a day. People are leaving trash there as well.

  • wcaroline-dav
    1/28/2017 - 07:06 p.m.

    In response to "Visit National Parks Set Record" is the bad things are that people don't like waiting in lines. Another bad thing is what if people start to leave because they are on a time rush and have to go disappointed? They also may not want to wait for everybody to see just one thing. So they might get annoyed and leave. There are so many reason, but those are some downsides to this record.

  • adamk-smi
    1/30/2017 - 08:54 a.m.

    downsides to this recored are that people have to wait a long time to get into the park and get a parking space even

  • jemimahp-bur
    1/30/2017 - 10:05 a.m.

    I believe that the downslides to this record is that there is an large amount of people and the park cannot take care of them all at once. Not only that but, the road are so congested and the people just decide to litter on the property.

  • rileyn-kul
    1/30/2017 - 10:58 a.m.

    This record is set because of the cheaper price of gas. I think it is wonderful people are burning a lot of gas and they need to start burning even more. The more gas burned the more ethanol burned, which means ethanol plants need more corn, which means the market should go up.

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