With the summer season heating up in Yellowstone National Park, some officials are sounding the alarm on overcrowding in America’s first national park.
Visitation to Yellowstone has been steadily on the rise for the past decade, with a marked jump apparent in the past several years. Indeed, according to KBZK, visitation has risen 22 percent over the past several years.
Last year, a record 4.2 million visitors streamed through Yellowstone’s five entrances, a number officials expect to be eclipsed this year or beyond.
Yellowstone officials have mulled several changes in response to rising visitor numbers. Last summer, the park hired a social scientist to poll visitors and gather info on how visitors perceive Yellowstone and their experiences in it. That data will be used to assess potential changes in the park and help officials forecast future trends. From KBZK:
“We’re looking at all those things to try to figure out how we best solve the problem of first and foremost protecting Yellowstone National Park and then you know secondarily how we make sure the visitor experience is still a high-quality experience,” said [Yellowstone Superintendent Dan] Wenk.
On a Wednesday in early May, it’s still tough to find a place to park in the main lot at the Norris Geyser Basin, imagine what it must be like here in July.
There’s a real possibility you come in the heat of the summer you’re not going to find a place to park. That means you’re not going to be able to experience the features that are unique to the Norris Geyser Basin and then, as Supt. Wenk says – that might mean we’ve reached capacity for visitors.
“I can guarantee you that we’re over capacity at Old Faithful, at Midway Geyser Basin, at Norris Geyser basin, at Mammoth, at Canyon during the peak season,” said Wenk. “During peak time we have more visitors than we can accommodate in a manner that I think they would like to enjoy in the park and we would like for them to enjoy the park.”
The human capacity study continues, but solutions are already being considered: limiting numbers, mass transportation, expanding parking at key areas. Some ideas are not as drastic.
“We look at simple things like making a one way travel around a boardwalk just to increase the capacity,” said Wenk. “You have to look at basically every tool that you have available.”
Several national parks, including Grand Teton, have mulled visitor or vehicle caps; others, like Grand Canyon National Park, have responded by increasing entrance fees and mandating shuttle transport to parts of the park.
New research from the University of Montana shows that while overcrowding is a problem for visitors to national parks, it’s less a problem of quantity as it is quality. More often than not, it’s the minority of “bad behavior” tourists who draw the most ire from visitors and park officials alike.
The UM report also offers concrete suggestions to curb the deleterious effects of overcrowding, including more “boots on the ground” in the form of interpretive rangers and extra emphasis on nearby attractions like the National Bison Range and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.