Visitors are streaming into U.S. national parks this summer, delivering some much-needed cash and attention. But it’s not all good news. The influx of guests is taxing the parks’ resources as coronavirus infections and deaths are on the rise in America.
This is the second year in a row that people have flocked to the more than 400 national parks. The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park all had more than 12 million guests last year, according to the NPS.
Outdoor activities, in general, saw massive boosts in 2020 as the pandemic shuttered most other forms of entertainment. Hunters and anglers returned the field and streams in droves. And the number of people hoping to reconnect with nature is on the rise.
More than a million people visited Yellowstone National Park in July. That’s up 15 percent from 2019, according to the National Parks Service. This has increased congestion to get into the parks and foot traffic at popular attractions.
“That visitation is concentrated in our most popular 12 to 15 destination national parks, places like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Acadia and Shenandoah,” NPS spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles told Fox News. “But we do see congestion in parks across the country.”
To avoid this or potential wait times, officials said guests may want to consider going to parks that aren’t as crowded.
Senator Wants to Add More National Parks
Sen. Angus King said the NPS should create more parks to deal with this increase. The Maine Independent chairs a subcommittee that oversees the park service and says he’ll bring it up the matter soon.
“If you have a demand problem, one way to beat it is to increase the supply,” he said in an interview last week.
The NPS manages more than 400 locations, but only 63 of them are actually national parks. The rest of them are national monuments, public land, and national forests. King said in July that the NPS should consider converting some of those sites into national parks.
He added that the service owns a “gigantic amount of land” that it could turn into parks at a low cost. The Headwater Foundation found in 2018 that locations reclassified as national parks saw a 21 percent increase in visitors. There have been eight since 2000.
However, King hasn’t said he intends to fund this overhaul. Meaning that it will likely be a non-starter for some on the committee.
“Creating new national parks without corresponding funding increases — or without a sustainable solution to the agency’s maintenance problems — could further strain an already-strained National Park System,” said Shawn Regan, vice president of research at the Property and Environment Research Center.
Sen. King plans to bring up the issue at the subcommittee’s hearing next month.