With surge of visitors to national parks, issues adding up, too
Are our national parks being loved to death?
That’s the question posed in the latest issue of National Parks magazine.
It tackles the problem of increased visitation over the last 10 years or so in the most popular and accessible parks.
Specifically, the article focuses on Arches and Canyonlands in Utah. But it could easily apply to a dozen or so more, including the Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon. Those two top the list of most-visited national parks.
Local tourism bureaus have discovered the financial draw these parks pose. They’ve increased promotion in recent years. And there’s clearly increased cultural interest in at least viewing the great American outdoors. That means more folks in the parks.
The article notes that in the 1950s, less than 30,000 people visited Arches annually. In 2016, that number was 1.6 million. At Zion (nicknamed the Disney World of national parks), visitation increased from 2.7 million in 2010 to 4.5 million last year.
The result is clogged parking lots, traffic backups, worn-down roads, and a multi-million-dollar backlog of needed improvements.
I’ve visited these parks myself over the last 10 years and noticed the problem. Eight years ago at Arches, the parking lot at the trailhead for Delicate Arch (that’s the one depicted on Utah license plates) was full when we got there. We had to pass on hiking to the arch and move on to a less-popular site.
That parking lot has since been expanded. But hiking to Delicate Arch still requires arriving very early in the morning before the associated parking lot fills up.
As a result, the National Park Service is considering increasing admission fees at the 17 most popular parks during peak visitation season. The agency is also considering limiting visitation at those parks through a lottery or reservation system.
Commercial tour operators will pay an additional fee. That may be a very good idea since they generally handle foreign customers. Many people believe foreigners should pay more to visit U.S. National Parks.
The 17 targeted parks:
Increased visitation fees from May 1 to Sept. 30:
- Arches National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Denali National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park
Increased fees from June 1 to Oct. 31:
- Acadia National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
Increased fees from Jan. 1 to May 31:
- Joshua Tree National Park