Press Release Feb 16, 2022

National Parks Continue to Set Visitation Records but Remain Underfunded and Understaffed

The 2021 visitation report continues to prove what we have long known to be true - America’s beloved national parks are popular. At odds with this steady surge in visitation is an alarming decline in park staffing.

Washington, DC – Today the National Park Service (NPS) announced that some of our country’s most iconic national parks experienced record breaking numbers of visitors in 2021, even in the midst of a pandemic. This comes as no surprise as national parks have experienced increased visitation over the past decade. But the increased visitation continues to be a challenge for parks facing insufficient funding and staffing.

Visitation and staffing discrepancies:

  • Denali National Park, between 2011 and 2019, visitation increased by 59%, but staffing levels dropped by 11%.
  • At Little River Canyon National Preserve, between 2011 and 2019, visitation increased by an astounding 238%, but staffing levels dropped by 18%.
  • Harper’s Ferry National Park, between 2011 and 2019, visitation increased by 51%, but staffing levels dropped by 11%.
  • The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, between 2011 and 2019, visitation increased by 11%, but staffing levels dropped by 27%.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, between 2011 and 2019, visitation increased by 58%, but staffing levels dropped by 13%.
  • Zion National Park, between 2011 and 2019, visitation increased by 68%, but staffing levels dropped by 16%.

After more than five months, the NPS and other federal agencies are still waiting for their fiscal year 2022 budgets, as Congress has only approved short-term funding at unchanged levels. Negotiators are making progress on a final bill that could bring back as many as 1,000 made-in-America jobs at our national treasures and address the damaging impacts of climate change, but they need to pass it or risk further staff declines. Additionally, the budget process for 2023 is starting now, giving Congress an opportunity to build on this year’s investments.

Below is a statement by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association:

“The 2021 visitation report continues to prove what we have long known to be true - America’s beloved national parks are popular. At odds with this steady surge in visitation is an alarming decline in park staffing.

“Nearly 3,500 park staff positions, or 16% of the Park Service’s staffing capacity, have been eliminated over the last decade, due to inadequate investments by Congress.

“For so many park staff, it’s not just a job – it’s a calling. But they are continually asked to do more with less, multitasking as maintenance workers, junior ranger wranglers, traffic controllers, wildlife biologists, janitors, rescuers and beyond.

“We must support people who protect some of our nation’s most irreplaceable places and resources. And Congress has the opportunity right now to right this wrong, by passing a funding bill before this bad situation gets worse.”

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About the 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 more than 1.6 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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