How America’s National Parks Became Critically Crowded With Tourists – Cheddar Explains

by birtanpublished on August 18, 2020

imagine you're in the back country of yosemite national park it's a place known for its grand rocky cliffs with the occasional waterfall spilling over its edges and when the sun sets it's a view unlike

Any other but then upon emerging out of this wilderness a new kind of spectacle takes place suddenly you are surrounded by hundreds of people in yosemite valley a jarring amount of tourists are

Crowding in and more are probably still looking for a parking spot that's kind of what happened to recreation ecologist dr ashley d'antonio all i remember thinking and i'd never

Actually been to like disney world or disneyland but i entered the valley and i was like this is not what i thought a national park was like this feels like an amusement park to me

It's an experience that is shaping more and more of our national parks today in 2016 the national park service saw peak visitation numbers with the rivals toppling over 330 million people

To its various parks monuments recreation areas and other sites within the service it's an astronomical number and while overcrowding in our parks has been a

Concern for years the last decade saw an unprecedented spike in visitation making it more difficult for the national park service to fulfill its dual mission

Of preserving these places while also making them accessible to everybody the national park service was established in 1916 and that year yosemite national park welcomed just over 30

000 people a hundred years later over 5 million people would enter its gates during 2016. today there are 419 sites under the national park service of those 62 are designated as official

National parks while the parks absolutely need people to survive they may be experiencing too much of a good thing how did this idea that was meant to bring solitude

Peace and nature to all people become the new theme park of america with long lines that rival disneyland we've seen this happen before in the 19th century

The crown jewel of north america was the thundering waterfall that straddled the u.s canadian border niagara falls alexis did tockville a french diplomat and author

Visited the falls in 1831 he wrote of their spell-binding beauty but he also wrote this in a letter to a friend if you wish to see this place in its grandeur hasten

If you delay your niagara will have been spoiled for you already the forest roundabout is being cleared i don't give the americans 10 years to establish a saw

Or flower mill at the base of the cataract hucksters and swindlers meandered around the falls as an increasing number of tourists came to visit as the falls became busier private

Developers began purchasing the best overlooks requiring tourists to pay to use them while half of the falls belonged to canada it was the u.s that many europeans

Condemned for the commercialization of niagara quickly turning niagara falls into the shame of america yet these early failures at niagara do have a silver lining

At least in part the embarrassment that was niagara falls led to the founding of the first national park in 1872 yellowstone the exponential depletion of america's beauty and game for a

Degeneration of conservationists john muir was an influential writer who has been dubbed the father of national parks he wrote about the need to create spaces for environmental preservation

He even took president teddy roosevelt a leader closely associated with the national parks movement on a camping trip to yosemite by 1916 president woodrow wilson had signed the act that created the national park

Service this created an agency under which all national parks monuments and historical sites could be managed this prevented commercialization and aim

To preserve the land while also making it available to everyone we have this idea that our natural resources in the united states and our national parks they're like these treasures that we have

And they're unique to our country potentially you know we don't have these historic churches and cathedrals that european countries have but we have these vast open spaces that we decided to protect

And i think that john muir and folks and teddy roosevelt maybe had never realized how many people would come to love these places the next 40 years after 1916 saw a rapidly growing population in the united

States with that it also saw an expansion of the road system that connected more and more people to nature and national parks when world war ii hit the park saw a

Slump in attendance this was partially due to some parks being used as training grounds and respite centers for the troops but in the years after the war the park saw a boom in visitation that completely

Overwhelmed the system from 1945 to 1955 visits to national park service sites increased from just over 10 million visits to close to 50 million a 350 increase the highest it had ever

Been at the time much of the maintenance needed to cater to crowds of that size had been neglected during the war years in 1955 charles stevenson wrote in reader's digest

Your trip is likely to be fraught with discomfort disappointment even danger he went on to describe his experience at yellowstone the moment you enter you are in a big

City traffic rush pause to look at sites you've come thousands of miles to see and cars pile up a quarter of a mile behind you so in 1956 a plan called

Mission 66 was implemented over the next decade to improve the infrastructure needed to serve ever-increasing crowds visitor centers and new roads within

National parks increase access to the public and improve the national park experience not long after the completion of mission 66 the crowds continued to grow

And so the balance of preserving these places while also making sure that they're accessible to everybody has only become more and more off-kilter over the years

Any recreation planning you're supposed to look towards the future but you can only you can only predict so far out and i don't think they realized how much visitation was going to

Increase in the 70s and 80s and into now so i think mission 66 was great and part of the conversation could be like what is our next mission 66 gonna look like and with more parks being added over the

Years that may be exactly what the park service needs from 2014 to 2019 the park service saw a 12 increase in attendance while the previous five-year span saw only a 2 increase visits to official

National parks clustered into some of the most popular parks like great smoky mountains the grand canyon rocky mountain zion and yosemite to put that increase in perspective that

Means that close to 35 million more visitors came to sites under the national park service between 2014 and 2019 exceeding over 300 million visits for five years in a row so what exactly is causing this and

Why now so i think a few things lined up all at once to see the really really rapid increase we've seen in maybe the past five years or so you know influencers on social media

Might be contributing but it's not it's not the one thing it's part of this bigger story about what's happening in our culture and our society and our economy that's that's leading to these increases

In recreation use at national parks and visitation there a rising middle class a strong economy and the rise of affordable travel before 2020 easily contributed to park popularity

There were also some really successful advertising campaigns utah's five national parks saw an increase in visitation after the park launched the mighty five campaign in 2013.

Five iconic parks one epic experience as the salt lake tribune reported a study found that three years after its launch an average of half a million more visitors came to the parks

The year the park saw peak visitation was 2016 and that followed on the heels of the national park services find your park centennial media blitz find your park

Society has also shifted towards a bigger emphasis on the importance of the outdoors for mental and physical health there's also the very real threat of climate change

How much longer are you gonna actually gonna be able to go to glacier to see a glacier so i think this idea of that our parks are threatened can make people feel some urgency to go to these places or it could just be

Putting it more in the news and more in front of their face and thinking about that as a place to visit social media has recently been the main culprit of overcrowding in national parks

But it may just be the newest contributing factor among many and the national park service is actually using this to their benefit now they care about this now they're engaged now they may be interested

In a place where maybe they weren't before so i think it's about leveraging that access that support into preservation and i think if you can get people on board with that message some of the tools that we're

Looking at to implement to preserve these places aren't going to be as difficult as the nest the parks now face a lot of challenges when it comes to overcrowding a study found that 96 of 417 sites

Assessed within the park service are plagued by air pollution problems one of the most polluted places was joshua tree national park and to pile on top of the excess visitation the park service is hoping to chip away

At the nearly 12 billion dollar maintenance backlog beyond that there's issues with just simply maintaining the physical safety of guests

Car crashes are the second leading cause of death in national parks one person dies in a motor vehicle crash every week on national park service roadways mostly in the summer months when parks

See the most crowding and that's not to mention the congestion and limited parking that cars bring to national parks as well visitors may also put their own safety at risk

Like not taking the right precautions to hike up the popular yet narrow trail to angel's landing in zion national park it involves hanging on for dear life to a chain in order to summon

These areas are not amusement parks and i think the exposure that you constantly see of some of these iconic parks there's a familiarity in that that i think some security is

Taken for granted and of course tourists continue to go off trails feed wildlife and break simple leave no trace rules which means to leave the land the exact same way as you found it

All of this has an impact on the preservation of the land as the environment risks more and more degradation every year and so the perception is people are loving parks to death we're

Trying to restrict access we're trying to keep people from crowding our parks that's the exact opposite we're trying to get more people in the parks at a pace

Where we can sustain that visitation and that there's going to be a great visitor experience for them at the end of the day i mean these are public lands paid by public

Federal dollars setting a capacity limit in our parks is a complex management issue as are a lot of the solutions that the park service is working on but the challenge remains that these are

Public lands and they were created for access by all and it's also why a steep increase in entrance fees was widely opposed in 2017. the next

Year the park service announced that it would only hike up fees by 5 or 10 more dollars so it is imperative that the park service find a solution that does not limit

Access things like issuing permits creating a reservation system or a lottery have been implemented in parts of different parks to free up the roads some parks have

Also implemented the use of shuttle buses there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to fixing overcrowding in our parks so while the park service works on that

The greatest impact could come from us so i think it needs to be not just a funding solution not just a staffing solution but i think that visitors to these

Places really need to kind of step up like how can i go here and personally minimize my impact both to other visitors and to the natural resources and if everyone was doing that

I think what we see happening in our national parks might be a little bit a little bit different might be able to handle more visitation there are also many national parks that don't receive

Nearly as many visitors as places like yellowstone does visiting lesser-known parks like north cascades takes away the burden that some of the most popular parks face

2020 is especially giving us a glance into what our national parks and public lands look like when no one is there but the parks are slowly reopening raising concerns about how to manage these crowds

In a world continually being shaped by the threat of covid19 and going forward the park service will have to adapt to coronavirus safety measures maybe the silver lining and all of this

Will be a learning experience for us and how we look at crowd crowded areas moving forward and certainly that's not unique to the national park service

But i think for us in particular as one of the issues we are looking at right now that be something that come out of this is how do we look at and or manage visitor use

In vaccine or not it just it opens your eyes to the realization of how vulnerable some of these systems really are more than 60 years ago a man named edward abbey worked as a park ranger in

What is now arches national park he said wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit national parks exist to satiate these human needs people crowd to national parks for the

Same reason yet they also exist to preserve these beautiful places and regaining that balance matters thank you for watching if you want to dig deeper into the topics we covered in this video

Go ahead and check out the links below and of course don't forget to like and subscribe to our channel you

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