NPS Reports 330 Million Visitors in 2017

Alejandro Medellin

A recently released report from the National Park Service shows visitation numbers are on par with the previous year, with several parks breaking records, and others breaking records established a year before.

The numbers show that there were just over 330 million visitors at national parks, and it should be noted that only 385 of the 417 parks count visitors. This number is almost identical to 2016, which was also a record-breaking year for many parks. The NPS attributes the rise in 2017 visitation to the solar eclipse that happened in August.

The national park system has been, for a long time, without much funds or repairs, and as the numbers continue to rise, the parks keep falling behind on essential amenities. A previous episode of the Outside podcast documents just how expensive and tedious it is to manage human waste in parks. The parks with the most visitors were also at the top for the most funds needed for deferred maintenance. National parks with names tied to the American conscience like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Glacier are in desperate need.

A plan proposed by president Trump would see the NPS bolstered with a generous fund to fix, maintain and enhance the aging national park system. The Public Lands infrastructure fund, which could potentially earn revenue tied to federal agency leasing, would pay for improvements and maintenance. Money from that fund would also be diverted to schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education, and national wildlife refuges. The initial fund—pre-revenue—would take on the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks alone, account for just over $1 billion of the maintenance backlog—combined, they had over 8 million visitors in 2017. Just in the last year, 16 percent of the parks broke visitation records, and 27 parks account for half of the 330 million visitors.

Ryan Zinke, the controversial Secretary of the Interior publicly approved of the Public Lands infrastructure fund in a press release dated in early February.

"Not all visitors to our parks and public lands have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness miles away from utilities. Many people see our national parks from scenic overlooks and short guided hikes on paved trails. In order for families with young kids or elderly grandparents to enjoy the parks, we need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitors centers,” Zinke said. He went on to mention the nobility and ambitiousness of the current president.

Zion National park has seen such an increase in visitors that they are thinking of imposing a reservation system to mitigate tourists, as reported by Mary Beth Skylis of Backpacker Magazine. With so many tourists, emergency calls have increased, as well as waste. While Zion National Park has not begun its plan for reservations, visitors may soon have to apply for permits to hike popular trails—other major parks are considering this course of action too.