Park visitors down slightly in 2008, up in October

You couldn’t tell from the throngs of people clogging the roads around Old Faithful this summer, but the number of visitors to Yellowstone National Park was slightly down through the end of September, according to figures from the National Park Service. At the end of October, the 2008 tally was 3.09 million, down a little more than 1 percent under 2007’s total of 3.11 million.

Given the high price of gas for most of the 2008 season, it’s a little surprising the number wasn’t lower. It appears the rest of the region’s parks were hit harder than Yellowstone. For instance, the number of visitors to Glacier National Park was down by 2.6 percent, while the number of visitors to Montana state parks was down by 9 percent.

But while folks may have made it to Yellowstone, they were doing it on a budget. Rick Hoeninghausen, marketing and sales director for Yellowstone concessionaire Xanterra, told AP retail sales were down 7 percent to 10 percent over 2007.

And it looks like the malaise, combined with the uncertainty surrounding the winter season, may be affecting winter visits as well. A look at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge availability shows very few sellouts. You won’t be able to visit in the period around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but you could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the Park — a departure from previous years, when the lodge was packed solid.

Or maybe the decrease was just a blip. October was a solid month, with the number of visitors up more than 4 percent over 2007: 145,488 versus 139,789.

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