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National Parks Visitation Near Record Levels

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Sep 30, 2009 12:05 PM |

Sol Duc

During an economic downturn, people turn toward the simple pleasures of life. Time spent with family and friends, cooking at home, reading books checked out from the library and exploring their neighborhoods and cities tighten the bonds that people have in their communities.

As does spending time outdoors.

The lingering recession may be one reason that visitor numbers to National Parks have spiked this summer.  Another may be early attention paid to Ken Burns' massive National Parks documentary miniseries.  Whatever the reason, visitation numbers may reach 280 million by year's end.  That milestone has only been reached in two other years--1989 and 1999.  

Most of the growth has been in Parks located close to urban or suburban areas, such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park.  Still, remote "crown-jewel" Parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone grew at seven and six percent respectively. Olympic National Park, where my wife and I backpacked over the July 4th weekend, saw 10 per cent growth, reaching 2.4 million visitors.

All this growth comes at an interesting time for Parks.  The House and Senate are attempting to reach an agreement on the 2010 Interior Appropriations Bill, and while they've reached near-unanimity on many numbers, one yawning gap is the $25 million appropriation to the National Park Centennial Fund approved by the House--which the Senate zeroed in their proposal.

Finally, an independent external panel--the National Parks Second Century Commission--recommends increasing spending on National Parks by $700 million over the next seven years.  

All the attention paid to National Parks leaves me with one small area of concern.  When will the Forest Service, which provides exponentially more hiking trail miles than National Parks in Washington, get the same attention from both documentary filmmakers and policy specialists?  We've been sounding the alarm for decades now--with success.  But we need a groundswell of public support for National Forests on par with what we've seen for Parks to preserve and expand both trail miles and conservation opportunities for our beloved forests.

For more information about funding for federal land management agencies, please don't hesitate to contact me by phone at 206.625.1367 or via email at