Being Real with National Park Visitation Numbers

Being Real with National Park Visitation Numbers

I read an article in Parade today entitled, “6 Great National Parks You’ve Never Visted.” Of course, I expected to see some of Alaska’s lest-known and less-traveled parks in there.  Take for example, Kobuk Valley National Park, home of the Kobuk Sand Dunes – yes, sand dunes in Alaska! According to the National Park Service, Kobuk Valley NP received anywhere between 230 to 6,309 visitors from 1982 until 2010.  Since 2010, it has experienced an inexplicable jump in visitorship – up to as many as 29,550 in 2012.  The number of park visitors to Kobuk Valley NP since 1982 totals 124,280, for an average of 4,009 visitors annually. And then there is my personal favorite, Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, the second-largest national park in the country, and has the most land designated as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of any park.  Straddling the massive Brooks Range, it is a true gem of the National Park System.  But yet, its remote location does not lend itself to a high level of visitation. It has received as few as 822 visitors in 1989 and a maximum of 11,397 in 2008, for a total of 181,340 visitors since 1982 (an average of 5,849 visitors annually).

Not only were these two national parks not mentioned in the Parade magazine online article, but NO Alaska national park made the list.  What parks were on the list you might ask? With one exception, they were all national parks accessible by a road system and had annual visitations that mostly exceed the total number of visitors that have ventured into these remote Alaskan parks. Only one national park in the article had numbers approaching those in Alaska, and that is because it, too, is rather remote. Isle Royale National Park, inexplicably part of Michigan even though it is much closer to Minnesota, is only accessible by ferry or plane. But yet, it receives considerably higher visitation than these Alaska parks.  Since 1980, Isle Royale’s lowest visitation year received 11,814 visitors but 31,760 in its highest year, for a total of 649,218 visitors and an average annual visitation of 19,673 during that time period. The other parks menioned in the article include:

So, be honest, if you are going to publish an article talking about great national parks that have hardly been visited, you need to include Alaska in the discussion and not include parks that receive over 1 million visitors annually. Even Alaska’s most-visited park, Denali National Park & Preserve, has far fewer annual visitors than Haleakala NP.  Since 1980, Denali has had a total of 13,858,769 visitors for an annual average of 419,963 visitors. But, having the national media ignore Alaska is something we are accustomed to. In 2004, when 6.5 million acres burned in wildfires in Alaska, it earned hardly a whisper on the national stage. On the same recent weekend a Boeing 777 crashed in San Fransisco, killing 2 people, we had a plane crash in Alaska that killed 10 – including two whole families.  The San Fransisco crash, with far fewer fatalities, earned constant national media attention, while the Soldotna crash was barely mentioned nationally. We have people go missing or get killed all the time in outdoor mishaps, and it hardly gets mentioned on the national stage.  But when someone goes missing on a day hike in Mt. Rainier National Park, it’s all a buzz. Funny how the nation’s largest state often gets missed.

But back to the Parade article. The point of the piece was that while parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Great Smoky Mountain are great, they come with crowds.  Perhaps another approach would be to publish an article about great parks to visit in the winter in order to avoid crowds.  Hmm, I think that’s a great idea …

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