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US National Park Attendance Declines

  • Ted Landphair

There are lots of campsites, but fewer campers, this year below the spectacular Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park.

There are lots of campsites, but fewer campers, this year below the spectacular Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park.

In tight times, grizzlies and geysers aren’t enough of a bargain

Would you like to visit one of America’s awe-inspiring national parks? Yosemite in California, perhaps, with its soaring cliffs and cascading waterfalls?

Or something warmer as fall turns into winter here in the northern hemisphere, such as Florida’s Everglades swamp or a southern battlefield site from the U.S. Civil War?

You’ll certainly be welcome, because so far this year, visitation to the nation’s 395 national parks and historic sites is down about five percent from last year, when park attendance declined 7.5 percent from the year before.

National Park Service officials are a bit perplexed by this, since park visitation usually rises in tough economic times. It's cheaper than many other vacation options.

But the prolonged length of the economic downturn and continued high gasoline prices have taken their toll. Don’t forget, a lot of visitors who stay in park campgrounds arrive in large campers and recreational vehicles, which are notorious gas guzzlers.

One of the most beautiful national park views, seen by fewer visitors this year, is of the Teton Range from the flat valley in Grand Teton National Park.

One of the most beautiful national park views, seen by fewer visitors this year, is of the Teton Range from the flat valley in Grand Teton National Park.

It has also been two years since Ken Burns piqued interest in the national parks with an acclaimed documentary film about their history and beauty.

And although there’s no way to get an actual count, anecdotally park rangers are reporting a considerable drop-off in what is usually one of the strongest segments of park tourism: visitors from Europe, where the strength of the euro against the dollar had made trips to the United States a bargain.

But the euro’s value has fallen vis-à-vis the dollar, and combined with the instability of several economies on the continent, it’s thought that lots of European families that might have checked out the misty hollows of the Great Smoky Mountains or the flaming sunsets over the Grand Canyon stayed closer to home this year.

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