Photo: Yellowstone National Park, which saw 4.3 million visitors through November 2016. (Photo via Flickr/Juan-Vidal Diaz)
For the third consecutive year, national parks in the United States hit a record-high number of visitors in 2016, but the increase in traffic has also resulted in more congestion at the parks and more guests misbehaving.
According to The Associated Press, visitors reported long waits at entrance gates, crowded parking lots, major congestion on popular trails and trash being left around the parks, resulting in acts of aggression and bad decisions.
“The level of frustration, we've certainly seen an increase in that,” Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said in a statement. “Sometimes they take it out on each other and sometimes they take it out on park.”
While officials from the National Park Service love the increased interest in the facilities across the country, they are struggling to keep up with the preservation of iconic landmarks and wildlife habitat due to a budget which has remained the same despite the influx of visitors.
Early numbers show that an estimated 325 million people visited national parks in 2016, surpassing the all-time record set last year of 307 million. Officials believe the National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary and low gas prices were contributing factors to the increase in guests.
Even if they do not break the new record in 2017, the National Park Service expects visitors to once again surpass 300 million. In 2016, the Grand Canyon National Park hit 5.9 million visits and Yellowstone National Park had 4.3 million visits, without December totals added. Rocky Mountain National Park reached 4.5 million visits and Zion National Park had 4.3 million visits throughout the entirety of the year.
As a measure to deal with the increase in guests, national parks such as Zion and Yellowstone are reassessing how to create better crowd plans and even considering daily visitor limits or a reservation system for park entries.
“We love having people come to the park,” Zion National Park spokesman John Marciano said in a statement. “But our No. 1 goal, our mandate, is to preserve the park into perpetuity and to ensure our visitors have a best of kind and safe experience.”