Is overcrowding endangering our National Parks?

Zion National Park is famous famous for its red sandstone cliffs and colorful panoramic views, and drew nearly four million people into its six-mile-long canyon last year. // Photo via Zion National Park

Zion National Park is famous famous for its red sandstone cliffs and colorful panoramic views, and drew nearly four million people into its six-mile-long canyon last year. // Photo via Zion National Park

The success of campaigns like the National Park Service’s Find Your Park and others from state tourism offices has created a huge demand at our nation’s parks—which is proving to be a bit too much of a good thing, reports National Public Radio.

Last year, a record 305 million people visited national parks. That’s more people than went to every single Disney park, NFL, NBA, and MLB game and NASCAR race combined.

It’s also a big reason people are growing more concerned about the future of our country’s National Parks.

Nearly 4 million people squeezed into Zion National Park, a six-mile-long canyon, most coming between March and November. About 15 years ago, traffic and air pollution got so bad at Zion that the park banned cars at certain times.

Now, Zion’s mandatory shuttle system is held up as an example of how parks can better manage crowds. But it is getting stretched to its limit: lines can often be 300 deep just to get on a shuttle bus that goes from the park to the visitors center.

“Zion was never designed to see, literally, millions of people,” says Jack Burns, who is in charge of the park’s crowd management.

Managers like Burns are starting to talk about turning people away at the gates because of the added stress to the parks of so many visitors. But it’s not that easy.

The mission of the Park Service is to keep these public lands open and accessible. More visitors getting out into nature is a good thing. But it’s straining infrastructure. There’s a nearly $12 billion backlog on maintenance. Search and rescue teams are understaffed. And the number of human-wildlife conflicts is on the rise.

With no immediate solution at hand, for now, for the Park Service’s centennial year, one of its main strategies is to try to divert people to other, less visited parks.

[H/T NPR]


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