Senators Call on Biden Administration to Clarify ‘Historic Numbers of National Park Visitors’

by TK Sanders

Once the country’s national park system reopened to guests amidst the COVID pandemic, visitors from around the country flocked in record numbers to the scenic wonderlands. This is wonderful news for fans of the great outdoors who love sharing their life’s passion with others. But the increased foot traffic can slice both ways, and two U.S. senators want to take precautions against a possible influx of visitors potentially wrecking the national park system.

At a glance

  • Many U.S. National Parks experienced record-breaking numbers of visitors last year
  • Some of the most popular parks, like Yellowstone and Acadia, welcome millions of visitors annually
  • Three of the least-frequented parks in the country are in Alaska, and one is in Texas

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana recently introduced requests for President Biden to sponsor a study clarifying the impact of increased visitation to the national park system.

The senators also want to study the impact of increased visitation on the surrounding communities in order to take necessary precautions to protect them in the future. They called on National Park Service Director Charles Sams for a congressional briefing about the subject.

According to the senators, Yellowstone National Park and Acadia National Park both experienced “historic numbers” of visitors last year. Yellowstone saw annual visits increase from about 3.6 million in 2010 to nearly 4.9 million last year; while Acadia jumped from 2.5 million to 4.1 million annual visitors in the same time period.

The senators wrote that the park system “is one of our nation’s greatest treasures. And as such we must be vigilant in ensuring that they continue to be available for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of this and future generations.”

What are some of the National Parks with the least visitors?

The National Park Service oversees and administers more than 400 parks across our great country. According to the service, Blue Ridge Parkway (which spans the southern and central Appalachians) received the most traffic last year with a staggering 15.9 million visitors. For comparison’s sake, Yellowstone ranked 12th and Acadia ranked 16th.

On the flip side of the list, some remote parks only receive a few hundred visits per year. The bottom four on the list were Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (629 visits), Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River (275 visits), Alagnak Wild River (262 visits), and the Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve (145 visits).

The Rio Grande River park is located in an extremely remote area of Texas; while the remaining three parks all hail from Alaska, where out-of-state visitors are more likely to frequent Denali than these three smaller national parks.

Even traveling to these small parks requires significant planning and preparation. Travelers visiting Yukon-Charley, for example, can only access the park via boat or plane during the summer. And if they want to visit during the colder months, they have to ride on snowmobiles.

Similarly, anyone who plans on taking a trip to Alganak will have to do so at their own risk. The parks service warns visitors that few, if any, authorities even reside in the area. Therefore, anyone who goes should “plan on being self-sufficient.”

Accessing the Rio Grande and Aniakchak also require significant pre-planning and gear knowledge.