NPCA supports a variety of management strategies at overcrowded parks to help protect natural and cultural resources and improve the visitor experience.
The National Park Service (NPS) experienced record-breaking visitation in its centennial year of 2016, recording over 330 million recreational visits to national park sites. These numbers continue an upward trend in national park tourism and represent a 7.7 percent increase over 2015. Many individual parks saw their highest visitation ever in 2016, including Yosemite, which recorded more than 5 million visits for the first time; Grand Canyon, which had just shy of 6 million visits; and Great Smoky Mountains, which surpassed 11 million visits for the first time.
But some of our most popular national parks are facing real challenges from overcrowding and congestion – gridlock in parks and gateway communities, long lines for basic services such as restrooms, an increase in emergency calls and visitor complaints, damage to natural and cultural resources, and the decline of enjoyable experiences for visitors.
At several parks across the country, NPS is initiating planning processes to manage the rapidly increasing number of visitors in a way that ensures park resources are preserved while providing a high-quality experience for diverse visitors from around the world. NPCA supports these planning efforts and recognizes the very real challenges some of our national parks face. As the landscape, destinations and visitation patterns are unique for each national park, NPCA supports park managers having a full suite of tools and potential solutions to address their visitor management challenges based on park size, sensitivity of natural and cultural resources, staffing, carrying capacity, infrastructure, and other factors.
Finding a responsible balance between visitor needs and sensitive park resources will help these places thrive into the future and continue to support tourism economies across the country.
NPS has been employing various visitor management strategies for decades. The agency recognizes that solutions for each park will be different, but has found that in some cases, a timed-entry, reservation or permit system is the best way to actively manage visitor access and protect park resources. Independence National Historical Park, Alcatraz Island at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Statue of Liberty National Monument are a few of the parks that have successfully used timed-entry and reservation systems to manage visitors.
Additionally, NPS has used different mass transit options to manage congestion in different park areas. Acadia, Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks have free shuttles buses that park visitors can use to get to and through the park.
NPCA is supportive of these visitor management strategies and others and is committed to working with park staff, leaders in gateway communities, counties and states, and the public to help identify and support solutions that protect the national parks for future generations.
About the author
Natalie Levine Climate and Conservation Program Manager.
Natalie works on a variety of issues including landscape conservation and protection, air quality and visibility, and wildlife protection, with a focus on western states.