National Parks On Course for Record Visitation Year

The national park system is headed for a record-breaking number of visitors this year if travel trends hold up.

Nearly 232 million people have already visited national park sites
this year, with recreational visits in 2009 up almost 5% compared with
the first nine months of 2008, according to ABC News.

If visitation stays strong through year’s end, the parks could see
more than 288 million visitors for 2009, topping the previous records of
more than 287 million visitors in 1987 and 1999, according to National
Park Service spokesman Jeffrey G. Olson.

Ken Burns’ new series about the national parks, “America’s Best
Idea,” which debuts on PBS Sept. 27, is expected to help keep interest
in the parks high for the rest of the year. “We think it’s the neatest
thing since sliced bread,” Olson said.

But other factors have already contributed to bringing in 13
million more people through August of this year compared with
January-August 2008.

President Obama’s inauguration in January kicked off the year by
bumping up tourist numbers to park sites like the National Mall and
monuments in Washington, D.C. Then the reopening of some portions of
Gulf Islands National Seashore, off the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama
and Florida, added an additional 3 million to park visitation, according
to Olson.

Low gas prices and an increased interest in regional, inexpensive
vacations also brought more folks to the parks. “Generally in times of
economic turmoil, national parks are seen as being a great value, and
people really connect with the parks as a place to go,” Olson said.

Obama’s visit with his family to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone
added even more buzz, and three fee-free weekends this summer encouraged
more people to visit the parks too. (Fees were also being waived on
Sept. 26, which is National Public Lands Day.)

Olson said October is a big month for travel as well, especially
among retirees and in parts of the country where there is fall foliage. By RV Business

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