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Yellowstone Visitors Say Park Too Crowded And Congested, Not Enough Rangers


A typical summer scene at Old Faithful points to the crowding problems at Yellowstone National Park/NPS, Neal Herbert

Yellowstone National Park visitors sound like an unhappy lot, judging by comments they provided to consultants.

They find other visitors are rude and even "stupid," there are too many bad drivers on the roads who either speed or stop in the middle of the road to watch wildlife, it's too expensive to stay in the park, ranger-led hikes are a thing of the past, and there are "not enough wild animals." 

The litany of complaints collected during 2016 -- and released Thursday as part of the park's Visitor Use Study -- perhaps shouldn't be too surprising, considering that a record 4.25 million people toured Yellowstone last year. But at the same time, the complaints reflect a growing problem facing park managers: How many people are too many?

Yellowstone managers know they have a people problem. Earlier this summer, they opened a gravel parking lot near the Fairy Falls Trailhead to take the pressure off the parking lot for Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin.

Yellowstone is not alone, as you've read in the Traveler many times in the past. Glacier National Park officials in Montana are asking visitors for patience this summer and putting a time limit on parking at Logan Pass. Zion National Park staff is considering a reservation system to gain entry to the park in southwestern Utah. Yosemite National Park is experimenting with parking reservations, and Acadia National Park managers are considering reservations, visitor quotas, building more parking lots, and other alternatives to better manage crowds.

For many, the solutions likely won't be implemented quickly enough. Zion officials are taking public comment on their reservation proposal, Acadia is just digesting public comments on the problem that park faces, and Yellowstone officials see a couple more years of studies before even identifying potential solutions.

"This is our first step in building a strong foundation of information, and more information we have to gather really has to deal with resource impacts," Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said Thursday evening.

While Yellowstone officials know park resources are being impacted by crowds of visitors, they want to collect more focused data on the extent and type of damage, she said.

Taken randomly, comments that visitors provided the consultants from Resource Systems Group, a Vermont-based firm that worked with Park Service personnel and Washington State University staff in gathering and crunching the data, reflect a great deal of unhappiness with visiting what arguably is the crown jewel of the National Park System.

Among the complaints:

  • A lack of wolf and bear sightings
  • Unsafe drivers
  • Not enough law enforcement or traffic enforcement
  • A lack of ranger-led hikes
  • Too many Asian tour groups
  • Crowded trails
  • High prices for lodging, dining, and Wi-Fi
  • Expensive camping
  • No separate bike paths along roads
  • Dirty, smelly restrooms
  • No cell phone reception
  • Lack of accessible trails
  • No free shuttle service
  • Wildlife jams on the roads

"Two-thirds of the visitors think that parking is a problem, and over half think that the amount of roadway traffic and congestion are problems," Ms. Warthin said. "And over half of visitors think there are too many people in the park."

Very possibly much of the problem at Yellowstone, and other parks in the system, is that while visitation has grown in leaps and bounds for many parks, staffing levels have not, as this chart demonstrates:

While annual visitation to Yellowstone National Park has grown significantly since 2000, full-time staff has not/NPS

And yet, the Trump administration wants to cut the National Park Service payroll by roughly 1,200 employees. Whether Congress goes along with that proposal remains to be seen. Also yet to be seen is a plan for how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke intends to reorganize his department, including the Park Service, in such a way that staffing and funding cuts don't further impact the visitor experience in the National Park System.

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This is not just a NPS issue apparently: Maybe summer should be cancelled in the Northern hemisphere

A lack of wolf and bear sightings - Although not a zoo I did experience far more
wildlife 30 years ago than I did 6 years ago. I
attribute that to the congestion and
Unsafe drivers - Yes
Not enough law enforcement or traffic enforcement - Yes
A lack of ranger-led hikes - I was never real big on these so can't comment
Too many Asian tour groups - That's sad. I wonder what these people would think if
they visited Asia and heard there are too many
American tour groups? I'll chalk this up to prejudice
and ignorance.
Crowded trails - Yes
High prices for lodging, dining, and Wi-Fi - Yes, although I wasn't aware you now
have to pay for WiFi?
Expensive camping - Yes
No separate bike paths along roads - Yes
Dirty, smelly restrooms - Hit and miss, sometimes I'm amazed at how clean they are.
No cell phone reception - It's the wilderness (or supposed to be)
Lack of accessible trails - Don't understand this one at all
No free shuttle service - Everything cant be free
Wildlife jams on the roads - Yes

Let me add one of my own - people not picking up after themselves. We need a Leave No Trace brochure to hand out at the entrance and adapt it to front country guests not just back country visitors.
One last comment, while I'm not sure of the specifics of Trump wanting to cut 1,200 positions, I assume that doesn't mean that rangers or law enforcement have to be impacted. It might also be a smart move if we are finally looking to reduce the number of visitors. I miss the Parks the way they were 30 and even 20 years ago, uncrowded, a bargain and wild. Glad I got to see so many of them back then.

Are the same visitors who are complaining about the "Lack of wolf and bear sightings" also upset by all those "Wildlife jams on roads"?

Yes, YNP is crowded.  You have two choices; restrict access or jack up prices until tourism falls off.  Take your pick.  Just increasing funding (which I'm in favor of) isn't going to change that.  Build new facilities and you increase visitation.  But do we really want more (or wider) roads, more hotel rooms, or even more campgrounds?  I don't.  Improve what we have, but leave well enough alone.  

I absolutely agree they need more law enforcement, but they also need to actually enforce the laws already on the books.  Start writing citations for stopping in the middle of the road, parking where you aren't supposed to, or getting too close to wildlife instead of just saying 'move along, move along, let's go, move it' as I normally see.

I think they ought to consider restricting the number of tour buses per day in the Summer, just as they do oversnow vehicles in the Winter Season.  

And I don't think that camping is all that expensive at YNP, not considering where you are.  I wouldn't even mind a modest hike in fees if it went directly to campground maintenance.

I agree with what others above have said.  With the ignorance of some of the survey comments, you wonder if people will get bored and the visitation will drop off.  On the other hand, we could still use that national task force.  Secretary Zinke, feel free to steal this idea.

I agree with most of what you say...and I am not a prejudice person....but, I do understand about the Asian tours...I've been to the park in June, being pushed off boardwalks as they shove you...and they have to take a million pictures - as we all do - but they always have to be in the picture with a selfie-stick...that is just not acceptable, as they use up all the space on the boardwalks.  In the fall which is when we usually go, I've had to use sign language and shouting to get some of them back on the boardwalk as they walked on the crust at Norris Geyser basin.  Then at fishing cone at West Thumb we watched as the ranger shouted at them while they walked on the cone, then looked for their tour guide and had to tell him that either he keep his clients on the boardwalk or he would have the whole tour kicked out of the park.  Just several of my 1st hand experiences.  


I think limiting the number of tours/tour busses and very large motor homes is a great idea.....roads just aren't built for them and the parking lots are overloaded....

Probably the same!!!!  I volunteered in the park 15 yrs ago...biggest question was where are the bears....  duh!!!



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