National park visitation nears 331 million in 2017.
WASHINGTON – The National Park Service (NPS) announced yesterday that national parks welcomed nearly 331 million visitors last year, with many parks reaching new milestones for visitation. This came as the park system continues to struggle with low staffing and billions of dollars in needed repairs.
The Park Service announced that parks received 330,882,751 recreation visits in 2017, just shy of record-setting 330,971,689 recreation visits in 2016 during the agency’s centennial year. Grand Canyon National Park surpassed more than 6 million visitors for the first time in 2017, while Zion National Park and Glacier National Park surpassed more than 4.5 million visitors and 3 million visitors, respectively.
The increased visitation in recent years continues to be a challenge for parks facing low funding, insufficient staffing and increased maintenance needs. Between 2011 and 2017, there was a 19 percent increase in visitation while there was an 11 percent reduction in staff, and the Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog has grown to $11.6 billion.
At many parks, superintendents work off shoestring budgets. Repair needs go unaddressed because there is no funding for them. Park managers can’t afford to fill open positions so the same park ranger greeting visitors may also need to lead a tour, fix a display and clean a bathroom because there is simply no one else to do it.
The updated visitation numbers come as the Trump Administration is both moving to increase visitor fees and calling for cuts to the National Park Service’s budget, including for land protection, cultural programs and the Centennial Challenge, a grant program that leverages philanthropic dollars to make investments in park repairs and visitor programs.
Below is a statement by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association:
“Year and year again, we are reminded both how popular our national parks are, and how much worse the situation can get when we fail to act. Greeting park visitors, giving tours, maintaining historic buildings, monitoring iconic wildlife and rescuing lost hikers require significant resources and the dedicated efforts of tens of thousands of staff. But for years, Congress has not adequately funded the Park Service, and now the administration is proposing to make a bad situation worse. Continuously shortchanging our parks only means they will continue to struggle at a time when our parks are more popular than ever.
“The administration talks about wanting to take care of parks, but the president’s proposals would only jeopardize them. Instead, the administration should support more funding for national parks and serious proposals to tackle their backlog, including supporting the National Park Service Legacy Act. This bipartisan, bicameral proposal would make a substantial investment in our national parks without undermining protection for their visitors, water and wildlife.
“The new numbers show that visitors are continuing to come from around the country and the world to have once in a lifetime experiences in our national parks. For them and the amazing places they visit, now is the time to get serious and make smart and substantial investments in our parks’ resources and staff so they can continue to welcome visitors for generations to come.”
About National Parks Conservation Association Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
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