Americans are increasingly turning to national park vacations as a cheaper travel alternative. In 2009, U.S. national parks nearly set a new record in overall attendance. And while numbers dipped again in 2010, overall attendance remains strong among the best national parks in the country. And for good reason: U.S. national parks are among the best in the world.
Despite the dip in attendance in 2010, several U.S. national parks set or nearly set new records. After seeing several years or attendance increases, Yellowstone National Park saw another record shatter last year, with over 3.6 million people visiting the park. Glacier National Park in Montana was another park that saw a surge of attendance in 2010, falling a mere 3,800 people short of its 1983 record of 2,203,847 visitors in 1983.
Yet whispers of a potential government shutdown are causing alarm, with concerns that a repeat of 1995’s nearly month-long closure of national parks could drastically affect those planning spring activities in those locations. Additional funding cuts to national parks are being proposed as part of the budgeting process occurring in Congress, drawing an even darker shadow. “We need to keep our national parks open and well-funded,” said John Gardner, a budget and legislation representative with the National Parks Conservation Association. “During a time of economic hardship, we need to adequately fund the places that protect our American heritage and draw tourists from throughout the world.”
It’s difficult not to agree with Mr. Gardner. Americans have been keeping travel more local over the last several years, meaning more tourist dollars for already cash-strapped states. It would be a shame if national parks had to shut down because of budget issues. That’s why it’s more important than ever to support your national parks. Grab your national parks pass, camp chair, and tent, and see America’s beauty. Let your representative know that national parks should be free of the whims of politicians. Tell them that national parks are not merely local draws: people from around the world wish to experience our natural wonders.
Finally, if national parks do get shut down this spring, don’t be afraid to turn to state parks or private museums for your vacation. State parks and attractions are having their share of budget woes. They often don’t have the same pizzazz as national parks, but there’s still plenty to be discovered.