‘Loving our parks to death’?

Posted 8/3/21

While always encouraging visitation to America’s first national park, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly has also been looking for ways to ensure wildlife and the landscapes aren’t …

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‘Loving our parks to death’?

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While always encouraging visitation to America’s first national park, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly has also been looking for ways to ensure wildlife and the landscapes aren’t overwhelmed by visitation.

“It’s incredibly important for us to continue to work together to develop viable strategies to manage increasing visitation in this park,” Sholly said in June.

The sentiment is now part of a national debate. Last week, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, convened a hearing to examine the effects of overcrowding in many national parks across the country and explore solutions. The National Park Service, which comprises more than 420 properties, is seeing a spike in visitors following pandemic shutdowns that is straining resources and infrastructure. It’s putting the country in a position where King believes we’re at risk of “loving our parks to death.”

During the hearing, witnesses spoke on ways to mitigate the effects of overcrowding without inhibiting access to national treasures. Suggested solutions included increased staffing, reservation systems for top attractions, and reducing vehicle traffic. 

“Even as international visitation is down due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, visitation numbers at our most iconic parks like Glacier, Acadia, and Yosemite are already at all-time highs,” King said in his opening statement. While it’s great to see so many Americans taking advantage of the parks, “we must recognize that overcrowding in the parks, itself, can degrade the natural resources and wildlife that these units are designed to protect.”

Along those lines, many locals head to Yellowstone National Park in the early and late season periods, avoiding the park during the busy months due to traffic.

“Watching the sun rise from the top of Cadillac Mountain [in Acadia National Park in Maine] is a wonderful experience,” King said. “Staring at the tail lights of the car in front of you as you’re trying to get up the mountain and find a parking place? Not so much.”

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