Since 1916, the National Park Service has been protecting America’s most breathtaking lands and ensuring greater accessibility to them. In recent years, park attendance has jumped substantially. This is partly because of the growing number of adventurists in the country. However, there are a couple of other factors behind the influx of visitors to our national parks.
The increase in visitors has been quite dramatic since the National Park Service first began keeping track of its visitors. For instance, in 1919, there were only 1,814 parkgoers at Zion National Park. Over the next 55 years, these numbers would steadily climb before finally breaking a million visitors in 1975. Since 2014, America’s national parks have seen more than 3 million visitors each year, and last year, this number jumped to more than 5 million, the highest number across all 63 national parks for 2021. This is just one example of the spike that all of America’s national parks have seen within the past decade.
So, What’s Behind the Sudden Increase?
According to a recent study from Utah State University economists, one reason has to do with new, strategic marketing. Recently, many parks have begun implementing more sophisticated marketing campaigns that encourage more traffic to parklands. In fact, Utah’s Office of Tourism launched a $3.1 million campaign called the “Mighty Five” which emphasized the state’s five national parks, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and, the most popular, Zion. The former four parks all saw roughly 100,000 more visitors. Meanwhile, Zion saw over 500,000 more.
“That didn’t surprise me that it was uneven, and we would see the strongest effects in the least visited parks,” study author and professor Paul Jakus told KSL.com. “Because clearly those are places people have not necessarily been to.”
NPS Also Credits Mass Retirement and Technology to Increase in Attendance at America’s National Parks
The other reason why America’s national parks have become more popular in past years has to do with the age of the visitors.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of adults who have reached the retirement age of 65 has increased by 34 percent within the past decade. As a result, these folks have more time to spend at our national parks.
Finally, the third most significant factor in the recent increase is the use of social media and apps to find picturesque and popular trails and overlooks. Thanks to Instagram and AllTrails, you can find just about every trail available at each park.
National Parks Utilize Timed Entry Systems to Combat Damage to Trails and Environment
Meanwhile, park staff have been hard at work making sure the increase in visitors doesn’t destroy the very trails we love most. These systems spread visitors out to less popular areas and prevent big crowds.
According to Zach Cooley, a photographer who lives in Moab and works in the surrounding area, the recent implementation of timed entry systems has been a successful start to this effort.
“So far I think the timed entry system is working well for Arches National Park”, Cooley said. “It has already shown to be effective in managing the crowds. That said, I do imagine that there are people that are having to enter the park later on in the day than desired, so they don’t have as much time to explore.”