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2007 National Park Visitation Shows 3 Million Visitor Increase


National park visitation jumped by 3 million last year, to 275.6 million. Photo of Old Faithful apron in Yellowstone by iemuhs via flickr.

National park visitation during 2007 showed a boost of roughly 3 million visitors over 2006 totals, to a total of 275.6 million, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park again led all the "national parks" in visits, with 9.4 million.

Should these numbers be applauded?

After all, across the national park system maintenance arrears are staggering, staffing situations are dire in some parks, and pollution is more than just a minor nuisance.

“Despite rising gas prices and the lure of electronic entertainment, this is great news,” says National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar. “With all the recreation choices available, national parks still draw more visits than Major League Baseball, the National Football League, professional basketball, soccer and NASCAR combined.”

Now, if the parks could only find a way to match their revenues.

After a near-record 287.1 million visits in 1999, and a one-year bump to 276.9 million attributed to the 2004 opening of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., the number of visits has been in decline. “Hopefully the 2007 figures are a permanent rebound from 2006 when the park system had 272.6 million visits,” Director Bomar said.

At 17.35 million, the Blue Ridge Parkway recorded the highest number of visits in the national park system last year. Golden Gate National Recreation Area was second with 14.4 million visits. Gateway National Recreation Area was third at 8.8 million visits followed by Lake Mead National Recreation Area at 7.6 million visits, and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area at 4.8 million visits.

The 58 national parks were the most popular park category in 2007 with 62.3 million visits. And 19 national parks recorded one million or more visits in 2007.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park recorded 9.37 million visits in 2007, the highest number of the national parks. Grand Canyon National Park was second with 4.4 million visits while Yosemite National Park was third in visits with 3.5 million. Yellowstone National Park was fourth in visits with 3.15 million. Olympic National Park was fifth in visits with 2.99 million.
Rounding out the top 10 of national park visits are Rocky Mountain National Park, 2.89 million, Zion National Park, 2.66 million, Grand Teton National Park, 2.59 million, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 2.49 million, and Acadia National Park, 2.2 million.


So, how is a "visitor" defined for the park service's purposes? There seems to be a correlation between high numbers and "major roadway."

Bill Watson
Pocono Record
(Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area -- 4.8 million visitors)

Bill, I've long been suspect of these visitation numbers. You cite an extremely good example. How many folks traveling U.S. 209 between East Stroudsburg and Port Jervis are park visitors and how many are folks on their way to or from work?

Much the same can be said of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are other examples, as well. This is one reason why I don't fret too much when folks lament "drops" in national park visitation or trumpet gains. I think more important numbers involve park budgets, maintenance backlogs, and on-the-ground, full-time interpretive rangers.

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