February 1, 2010
Yellowstone's Record-Breaking Year
Yellowstone National Park hosted a record number of visitors in 2009. Nearly 3.3 million people visited the world’s first national park last year, up 7.5% from 2008 and up 4.6% from the previous record of 3.15 million visitors set in 2007. Why the increased numbers? Al Nash, Yellowstone National Park’s Chief of Public Affairs, has some theories…
"It seems like the bad economy actually gave Yellowstone visitation a bump last year. When it comes down to it, Yellowstone is just a good value. Many people recognize that their dollar can go further in Yellowstone than at many other destinations,” said Nash. “It’s easier to scale up or down a Yellowstone trip – for instance camping or staying in a cabin instead of a hotel room, or choosing a picnic or fast food over a dining room meal. A visitor can also shorten the duration of their trip by a few days and still feel like they got a quality Park experience.”
All Park entrances recorded annual visitation increases compared to 2008 levels. Double-digit percentage increases were recorded through the Northeast Entrance and East Entrance. The West Entrance in West Yellowstone, MT continues to be the Park’s busiest, and recorded more than 1.3 million recreational visitors in 2009.
Nash also suspects that dropping gas prices factored into the rise in visitation. “There may have been some pent-up demand for a Yellowstone trip among people who postponed their trip when gas prices were sky-high in the summer of 2008.”
Yellowstone wasn’t alone in welcoming more visitors in 2009 than the previous year. Visitation to all U.S. national parks combined last year was 285.3 million, an increase of more than 10 million over 2008.
The Impact of Increased Visitation
While most people would agree that greater numbers of people discovering the enjoyment Yellowstone offers is a good thing, heavy visitation does put an added strain on the Park's resources. From wear and tear on hiking trails and campgrounds, to greater demand for educational programs, to increased use of water and electricity, Yellowstone’s annual budget struggles to keep pace with rising visitation.
Yellowstone’s law-enforcement rangers, in particular, are spread thin when visitation is high. These professionals -- who perform duties ranging from informal education and guiding, to traffic control and emergency medical response -- require top-notch equipment, facilities, and technology to make their work more efficient.
With the help of Friends of Yellowstone, the Yellowstone Park Foundation seeks to make every visitor’s trip to Yellowstone, safe, meaningful and enjoyable, while helping the Park protect and preserve its resources for future generations.