2009 National Park Visits Top 285M, Up 3.9%

February 23, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Ten million more Americans and foreign tourists visited the nation’s national parks last year than in 2008, a 3.9% increase that marked the fifth busiest year ever for the National Park System, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today.

“People both here and abroad know that our national parks are America’s best idea, even during an economic downturn,” Salazar said. “Our national parks are treasures that tell the story of our country and celebrate its beauty and culture, and they provide vacation bargains for families living on a tight budget. They offer priceless opportunities to inspire adults and children alike with our wonderful natural, cultural and historic heritage.”

“In an increasingly sedentary society, our parks give parents a place to connect their children with nature and learn to appreciate the good feelings that come from healthy green exercise,” he said.

More than 285 million people visited national parks and other units of the National Park System during 2009, up from just under 275 million in 2008.

This fell just short of the all-time visitation record of 287.2 million in 1987.

Possible reasons for the increase in visitation include three weekends last summer when the Park Service waived entrance fees, the visits by President Obama and his family to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, the publicity generated by Ken Burns’ documentary on the history of the national parks, a decline in gasoline prices and the continued strong exchange rate the Euro enjoys against the dollar.

Salazar highlighted the benefits national parks provide to our economy. A study released today revealed that the National Park System supports more than 223,000 jobs and nearly $14 billion in economic activity across the country.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park continued its reign as the most-visited national park in 2009, attracting 9.4 million visitors, while the Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited unit of the system with nearly 16 million visitors.

The top 10 most visited national parks were:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 9,491,437 visitors
  • Grand Canyon National Park, 4,348,068
  • Yosemite National Park, 3,737,472
  • Yellowstone National Park, 3,295,187
  • Olympic National Park, 3,276,459
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, 2,822,325
  • Zion National Park, 2,735,402
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 2,589,288
  • Grand Teton National Park, 2,580,081
  • Acadia National Park, 2,227,698
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Obamas are Camping at National Parks This Weekend

August 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

America’s First Family is headed to two national parks this weekend. And while they will bring along a small army of security and communications staffers, they will enjoy experiences remarkably similar to those enjoyed by millions of other American families who will visit one of the nearly 400 national park units this year.

The Obama family plans to visit both Yellowstone National Park – the nation’s first park – and Grand Canyon National Park to do some hiking, biking and gazing at natural vistas and wildlife. Their visit will coincide with the summer’s third and final ”Fee-Free Weekend.” All 391 national parks will offer free admission this weekend, and many park concessionaires — including tour operators, hotels, restaurants and gift shops — will provide discounts and special promotions for visitors to further enjoy the parks.

The fee-free weekends have attracted more of America’s 30 million RVers to national parks this summer. Surveys of RV owners conducted by the Recreation vehicle Industry Associaton (RVIA) show that national parks continue to be a popular destination for RVers, with more than 63% reporting in RVIA’s spring “Campfire Canvass” survey that that visiting national parks is a favorite activity.

“RVers love visiting the outdoors and experiencing the wealth of recreational opportunities the national parks offer,” said RVIA President Richard Coon.  “The National Park Service’s fee-free weekends have come at a terrific time.  RVing is already the most cost-effective way for families to vacation, and this initiative has allowed thousands of America’s budget-conscious families to enjoy inexpensive vacations in some of America’s most beautiful places.”

American Recreation Coalition (ARC) President Derrick Crandall added, “This year, Americans are rediscovering the wonder of our parks. Attendance is up at national parks – and also at many state and local parks. Time spent with family and friends in the Great Outdoors produces healthy bodies and healthy relationships.”

In a speech this spring celebrating the 160th Anniversary of the Department of the Interior, President Obama also emphasized the importance of the great outdoors to America’s children.

The President said of the experience of visiting America’s natural treasures, “these are experiences that enrich our lives and remind us of the blessings that we share. That was certainly the case for me.”

Obama told the crowd of his grandmother’s decision, just before the president’s 11th birthday, to take him to these iconic parks: “We drove down the coast of California and then east to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. … It was an experience I will never forget. It is an experience I want for my daughters and for all our daughters and sons.”

For information on the fee-free weekends initiative of the National Park Service, see: Find A Park. For overall information on outdoor recreation on all federally-managed lands, go to:

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National Parks Offer Free Admission This Weekend

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

national-park-service-logoThe National Park Service has announced that admission to the nation’s 391 national parks is free this weekend, July 18-19. This weekend is the second of three free admission summer weekends, with the third scheduled for Aug. 15-16.

Many park partners, including tour operators, hotels, restaurants and gift shops, will provide discounts and special promotions to sweeten the deal, according to a news release. Fees for activities such as camping, reservations, tours or concessions are not affected by the entrance fee waiver.

“During these tough economic times, our national parks provide opportunities for affordable vacations for families,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “I encourage everyone to take advantage of these free-admittance weekends.”

Dan Wenk, acting director of the National Park Service, said, “Most Americans live within a few hours’ drive of a national park, and free entrance weekends offer the perfect chance to visit an old favorite or to discover and explore a new place.”

There are 147 parks that normally charge entrance fees ranging from $3 to $25, while 244 national parks never charge entrance fees. 

More information is available at

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National Parks to Benefit from Stimulus Funds

May 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The National Park Service (NPS) will use $1 billion in federal stimulus funds to attack an estimated $9.6 billion maintenance backlog among the park system’s 388 properties.


 ”This is going to make a major dent in our backlog. And it will provide jobs,” Dean Reeder, NPS national tourism  director, told state campground association leaders during the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’  (ARVC) 2009 National Issues Conference last week in Washington, D.C.

Also speaking at the conference were U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., ARVC consultant David Gorin, David M. Huether, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, Suzanne D. Cook, senior vice president of research for the U.S. Travel Association, Carvin DiGiovanni, senior director of technical and standards for the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), Lyle Laverty, a consultant and former assistant secretary of the Interior, Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Phil Ingrassia, vice president for communications for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).

Reeder said that NPS plans to promote the national parks as a “brand” and establish “a dialogue with the American public” in an effort to stem declining visitation, which has dropped 10% in the last 20 years. He termed “a crisis.”

“It should be a concern to all of us,” he said.

Reeder, on the other hand, said that Americans are returning to basics and seeking “more authentic experiences” in their travel. “And that’s what we offer,” Reeder noted.

As part of the NPS’ branding effort, he reported that the park system will conduct a national survey in the fall and establish focus groups to establish the national parks as a brand.

“The fact that people are looking to take shorter trips — in both distance and duration — we see as a positive,” Reeder said. “The national parks are great and they’re doing great … except that they haven’t kept pace with other alternatives that attract people when they travel. We are getting into that to understand what motivates people and how we can hone our message to reach them at a base level.”

Reeder said branding efforts will get a boost this fall with the telecast on PBS of a 12-hour series produced by Ken Burns, whose previous projects have included the Civil War and American jazz. It’s the best branding gift we are ever going to see,” Reeder added.

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National Parks Get $750M Stimulus Injection

April 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The National Park Service will invest $750 million in 750 restoration and protection projects at parks across the country to create jobs and preserve American history and heritage for future generations, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Wednesday (April 22). 

The funding comes under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, part of the $3 billion allotment to the Interior Department, according to the Environment News Service

“From the Civil War to the Great Depression, America’s best ideas for protecting our national parks and open spaces have often come when our nation has faced its greatest challenges,” said Salazar. 

“Today, by investing $750 million to restore and protect America’s most special places, we are creating a new legacy of stewardship for our national park system while helping our economy stand up again,” he said. “These projects at places like Ellis Island in New York and Dinosaur National Monument in Utah are ready to go and will create jobs in communities across the country.” 

Parks Large and Small Will Benefit 

The National Park Service Recovery Act projects will benefit large parks such as Yellowstone, where more than $9 million will be spent to overhaul an antiquated wastewater treatment facility. 

At Olympic National Park in Washington state, $54.7 million will fund six mitigation projects to prepare for the removal of the Elwha Dam and restoration of the Elwha River basin. 

The funding will also benefit smaller parks such as Perry’s Victory and International and Peace Memorial in Ohio, where $7 million will be spent in the first phase of renovating the monument that commemorates Oliver Hazard Perry’s naval victory during the War of 1812. 

All the projects are long-standing priorities of the National Park Service that meet the criteria put forth in the Recovery Act – that a project addresses the department’s highest priority mission needs; generates the largest number of jobs in the shortest period of time; and creates lasting value for the American public. 

“This important reinvestment in the crumbling infrastructure of our national parks is a step that will create jobs in large and small communities nationwide, and help to restore our nation’s heritage for our children and grandchildren,” said Tom Kiernan, president of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association. “There is much more to do to restore our national parks, but this is progress.”

The Interior Department’s list of National Park Service infrastructure projects includes: 

  • Upgrading Ash Mountain’s failing water system in Sequoia National Park to meet visitor needs and help with fire suppression, and the installation of renewable energy solar equipment to provide power for Yosemite National Park operations. 
  • The department will invest $30.5 million to repair the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and $7.3 million to restore the District of Columbia War Memorial at the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. 
  • The Ellis Island Immigration Museum will get $26 million to repair the seawall and save one of its historic buildings. Of the total, $8.8 million will be spent to stabilize the Ellis Island Baggage and Dormitory Building built in 1908, one of the most significant structures at Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island in New York and New Jersey. 
  • At least $5.5 million will go to rehabilitate Independence Hall Tower at Independence National Historical Park in Pennsylvania. Famous as the location where the Declaration of Independence was debated and adopted, the building is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The legislation passed by Congress in February includes an investment of $900 million that will help reduce the National Park Service’s $9 billion backlog of maintenance and preservation projects, and address other park infrastructure needs. 

Congress directed approximately $750 million toward national park infrastructure projects through the Department of the Interior; an additional $170 million is provided for national park road repairs through the Department of Transportation.

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