Are Americans Losing Interest in our National Parks?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Well, according to some statistics, the answer is yes. Several statistics showing declining visitation for the Park system as a whole since peaking in 1987. Not only are people visiting less often, but they’re also visiting for a shorter amount of time and they’re camping less.

Furthermore, Americans are spending less time on outdoor related activities in general.

Although many explanations have been put forth, such as increased time watching TV, playing video games or surfing the internet, the article states that the biggest reason Americans aren’t visiting our National Parks is because they’re flocking to big cities for their vacations now. Instead of Yellowstone or Yosemite, families are now opting to visit New York or Las Vegas.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, visitation in the Smoky Mountains has held steady over the last 8 years. Yes, the Park had more than 10 million visitors in 1999 and 2000, but if you look at the long-term picture (see graph below - visitation statistics are from 1959 through 2007), visitation in the Smokies has slowly trended upwards.

Looking at the National Park System as a whole, should falling interest in our National Parks be cause for alarm for those of us that love them? The thinking goes that if we as a nation no longer support the Parks, we may no longer want to pay for them.

Maybe Ken Burns’ new documentary series will spark a renewed love affair with our Parks.

Are you at all concerned about these trends? Is there anything that we as a nation should do?



Anonymous said...

My experience in the Smokies was as an AT thru-hiker. I found that there was essentially nobody other than thru-hikers in the woods, and mobs of people who thought I was only slightly less of a curiosity than a sasquatch where the road crossed (Newfound Gap? Is that what it's called). On one level, I'm glad to have some solitude in the woods, on another, I have more of the John Muir perspective that we need to get people out there to see how great these places are and want to protect them.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

yogaforcynics - I have to agree with you - I guess we want our cake and we want to eat it as well.

BTW, yes, that was Newfound Gap Rd you crossed. Congrats on hiking the AT!