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Visitation On Record Pace in Yellowstone National Park


Visitation is on a record pace in Yellowstone National Park. NPT file photo.

If Yellowstone National Park can be viewed as a bellwether, then those who fear the national parks are suffering from a decline in visitors will be relieved. The latest figures show that a visitation rebound in Yellowstone that started in May has now reached a record pace.

Not only has visitation through the first half of 2009 eclipsed the 1 million mark, but the nearly 644,000 folks who visited Yellowstone in June reflected an 8.5 percent increase from June 2008, and up from the 609,000 who visited in June 2007, which was the only other time June visitation edged above 600,000.

Overall, for the first six months of 2009 just more than 1 million people visited Yellowstone. That’s up 9.3 percent over 2008 levels, and again tops the previous record January-through-June total of 978,000 visitors set in 2007.

All park entrances reported visitation increases compared to 2008, with the Northeast, East, and North entrances showing the greatest percentage increase. The statistics also show more people are traveling in RVs and fewer are traveling by bus when compared to 2008. Early numbers also show some park campgrounds also filled more nights this June than in 2008. More camping and in-park lodging information will be available in a few days.

July is typically Yellowstone's peak visitation month, followed by August, June, September, and May. Overall visitation to Yellowstone National Park for 2008 was 3,066,579; down just 2.7 percent from the record 3,151,343 people who visited the park in 2007.


So tell me then why we aren't funding our National parks? With Bush, we all understood that he was an environmental terrorist but what has Obama done so far? He has my vote & I'm giving him the time he deserves but let's go already!

Actually, Prez O seems to be heading in the right direction. His budget proposal contains a somewhat hefty boost for the NPS (roughly $100 million, I believe); the administration tossed another $750 million in stimulus funds to the NPS, a figure that grows to $920 million when you factor in Federal Highway Administration dollars, and; the administration seems seriously intent on getting the Everglades restoration work moving.

That's not to say we'd give the administration a perfect score on national park issues, but things seem to be a tad bit better than they were just seven months ago.

If Yellowstone National Park can be viewed as a bellwether, then those who fear the national parks are suffering from a decline in visitors will be relieved. The latest figures show that a visitation rebound in Yellowstone that started in May has now reached a record pace.

Gee, that's, uh, great news.

Anecdotally, I can say that visitation has been quite dense. However, statistically, it seemed to be trending that way. I have a rough way of measuring likely visitation numbers, which has worked surprisingly well, over the past few years. Interestingly, this has nothing to do with visiting the park and counting people, or understanding advance registrations.

What I do is fairly simple: I take the file size of my "newspaper" on Yellowstone, which I archive every month. I compare that file size with what I had the previous year. When the file size is greater, visitation has tended to be greater. When it is lower, it is usually lower. There are exceptions that are easy to identify. When Yellowstone has anything like an earthquake swarm, like we had this past winter, interest in Yellowstone explodes (forgive the pun) outside of any correlation to visitation. The other factor that can throw it off can be the extent of the fire season. If Yellowstone has a lot of fires, there will be a lot of articles, but visitation won't necessarily mimic the number of stories in the paper. Comparable fire seasons will produce reliable numbers, however.

In any event, it works well, and I think the reason is that my newspaper looks at more than simply what's in the newspapers or government press releases but also posts a large number of blogs, especially trip reports. Those sections of the newspaper increase greatly in the summer months, and the size of them can determine the overall file size.

What is interesting to me, looking at this, was that I thought that given the economy, my way of predicting was probably wrong for May when my file size increased. And, yet, May visitation surprisingly spiked. This month, the paper is much larger over last year, and I was not in the least surprised to see the trend continue. In fact, it's taking me an awful lot of time every day (in upwards of 3 hours) to maintain the paper - something for which I don't receive one dime. In November, it might take me just over half an hour per day.

Last year, if I relied on my eyes, I think I would have thought Yellowstone had fewer visitors than was being claimed, but the paper size predicted otherwise. It's interesting that visitation trends tend to correlate with the number of bloggers on Yellowstone, though I don't pick but a small fraction for inclusion in the paper. It's nevertheless a surprising thing to discover.

As for whether this is good or bad, I know and most people I know who follow Yellowstone, can't wait for the crowds to clear out. However, we go in all the same, if only because it's so easy to escape the crowds. You still find almost no one in backcountry, outside a few popular trails. We hiked the Beaver Ponds Trail just two weeks ago; we went almost the entire 6 mile loop, which begins right smack in crowded Mammoth Hot Springs, and saw our first people less than a quarter mile from our ending point. So, an interesting discussion is whether Mission 66 for Yellowstone at least partially got it right - to sacrifice a few areas to the throngs while the vast majority of the park remains empty even at the busiest times. I don't know, but it crosses my mind almost every weekend that I spend camping and hiking in the park.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Environmental terrorist? And Obama is not because he believes all the rhetoric from Al Gore? With all the other problems we have in this country, including BIG unemployment just to start the list, although many of us would like to funnel more money to the parks, they will probably take a back seat to other needs.

Interesting follow ups temper the news of surprisingly increased visitation in Yellowstone. The Cody Enterprise is reporting that spending is reported down, though visitation is up. Jackson Hole News and Guide notes a sudden drop in hotel reservations since the holiday weekend.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

We went in mid-June, and while there were crowds, they were easily avoided (except at Old Faithful).

We had cancelled this trip last year when gas was at 4 a gallon.

I think some park lovers with cabin fever have decided not to wait anymore.

I can understand why those of you with this treasure in your backyard are reluctant to see the summer onslaught, but I thought the crowds were much less of a problem than we'd been lead to anticipate.

Simply by seeing many sites later in the evening, we avoided much of them. We strolled around Mammoth at dusk and had the place practically to ourselves.

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