Do the Country’s National Parks Have an Overcrowding Problem?

Finding a solution won't be easy

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park.
Austin Farrington/Unsplash

Since the pandemic first reached the United States, it’s forced many people to rethink their leisure activities, embracing the great outdoors and the natural world. That’s led to a considerable increase in activities like birding and gardening, as well as trips to the country’s national parks. But an uptick in travelers heading to the likes of Yellowstone National Park has also compounded an existing issue: that some of the country’s national parks are experiencing problems with overcrowding.

This was the experience I had when visiting Acadia National Park over the summer — while some regions of the park were relatively low-key, others were full of people looking to take in stunning vistas and verdant landscapes. It’s understandable why so many people would embrace visiting parks, but it can also lead to some unexpected challenges.

Writing at The Guardian,  Kim Heacox — a writer and onetime National Parks Service ranger — looked at recent events at Yellowstone in a larger context. Heacox cites an astonishing figure: in July, one million people visited Yellowstone. Heacox writes that these visitors “they sought solitude and fresh air” but instead found “[t]raffic, litter, crowds, noise, oppressive heat and long lines.”

All of this, Heacox argues, adversely affects the experience for everyone attending the parks — both in the immediate term and (due to wear on the landscape) the longer term as well.

Heacox proposes a few measures to remedy this, including congestion management plans and increasing the National Parks Service budget — and, with it, the total number of parks. The challenges he describes are ongoing — and finding solutions will require a delicate balance.


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