By Nathaniel Valyo, National News Writer
Visitor attendance in national parks across the United States is on track to break records again this year.
Many national parks around the country are seeing a steep increase in the quantity of seasonal tourists and visitors. For example, Zion National Park in southwestern Utah recorded 2.7 million visitors as of July 2017, the same number of individuals that visited the park in the year 2010 alone. In addition, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming has seen a steady increase in tourists since 1980, and attendance at Grand Canyon National Park jumped from five million visitors in 2015 to six million in 2016.
Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Rocky Mountain and Acadia National Parks are among other parks experiencing a similar influx of tourists. “Visitation to the parks really kind of peaked in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” said Donny Leadbetter, tourism program manager of the National Park Service. “But in the late 2000s, visitation started to skyrocket.”
This increase in tourists, however, means a significant increase in maintenance. National Park administrators have voiced concerns over the depletion of natural resources and strains on park infrastructure, facilities, and tranquility. “In the last few years, this huge uptick in visitation has overwhelmed our infrastructure facilities, our trails, our backcountry, it goes on and on,” said Zion National Park representative John Marciano. “We can’t sit on our hands anymore. We have to come up with some kind of management plan to be able to preserve natural resources and to make sure our visitors have a good and safe experience.” Given the unprecedent amount of arrivals, park officals are faced with a growing tourist problem never before encountered on such a scale.
Park officials are currently in the process of creating a plan to address the overcrowding issue, with ideas such as a reservation system being suggested. Directors and managers are worried that this increase in tourism has become the new normal, and will only become harder to manage.
Joan Anzelmo, a retired National Park Service superintendent, stated that resources in the parks are “irreplaceable,” and that “we have to protect them by putting some strategic limits on numbers, or there won’t be anything left.” She later added, “Nobody will want to visit them. Everyone I know who lives, works, and is involved in these issues says something has to be done, that it cannot go on like this anymore.” Increasing the levels of infrastructure and the number of hotels and lodging would only take up more space, diminishing the true experience of the national parks, and encouraging even more tourists to visit.
To further complicate matters, President Donald Trump has proposed a plan to cut the National Park Service budget by 13 percent, a move which, if implemented, would be the largest cut to the federal agency dating back to at least the World War II era. There are worries that the Trump Administration will decide to make the parks more commercial-friendly, leading to further upward pressure on tourist and visitor arrivals and diminishing the peaceful, sacred atmosphere of the parks.
“We want people to understand that we’re not Disneyland and that a national park experience is very different,” said Jack Burns, Chief of Commercial Services and Partnerships at Zion National Park.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 26th print edition.
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