Yosemite National Park saw near-record numbers of visitors in 2011, but those people didn’t stick around.
Even as visitation has been up at the iconic California park and across the U.S. national park system, time spent per visit in the parks has dropped — declining nearly 15 percent systemwide over the past two decades, USA Today reported.
In places such as Yosemite, the drop-off is much greater. Park spokesman Scott Gediman said fewer people are making the park a destination for a week-long camping trip, instead choosing to cruise through the Valley seeing a few main sites for a few hours before heading elsewhere.
“The way the visitors are seeing the parks is totally changing,” he said. “We’ll see 70-80 buses come through, and maybe one or two of them are spending the night. More and more, people are not just coming here, they’re going to other parks and places as well. We’re finding that vacations themselves have changed.”
The National Park Service trend bucks statistics showing that Americans are increasingly spending more time and money on outdoor recreation, said Avery Stonich, communications manager for the Outdoor Industry Association. Over the past five years, spending on outdoor recreation has increased by 5 percent annually, according to analysis by her organization.
“People are still making outdoor recreation a priority in their lives,” Stonich said. “While they aren’t going to the national parks, they certainly are spending more time outdoors.”
At Yosemite, the average park visitor spent nearly 27 hours inside the national park in the early 1990s. By 2011, that was down to less than 17 hours. Many of the nation’s largest parks have seen similar declines — in the Grand Tetons, Wyo., the hours the average visitor spent in the park dipped from 10 to about 6 1/2 over the past two decades. At the Grand Canyon, hours spent were down 10 percent, and at Cape Hatteras, N.C., that figure had dropped more than 19 percent.
The hours-spent figure is an estimate determined by statisticians who assign a set number of hours to each visitor determined by what entrance they use, whether they stay overnight and other activity factors.
The decline in overnight park stays is largely to blame for the decrease in time spent in the parks, officials said. Although National Park Service surveys don’t specifically track why camping has dropped off, numbers show that the entire parks system saw 4.5 million fewer overnight stays in 2011 than it did at its height in 1994 — a 25 percent decrease.
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