Its a puzzling thing....visitors to the national parks of America....are decreasing. Based on the numbers....they are thirteen percent less than last year. There are several suggestions by the folks who run parks....as to what might be going on: rising gas prices, the popularity of video games, and fewer folks interested in camping out. The folks who are critical of the parks folks....tend to say that too costly fees for entry, a significant increase in noisy off-road vehicles and simply a shrinking budget for the parks budget....are making this an issue.
The parks folks had one employee......a policy analyst with the Forest Service.....James Johnston.....who talked with 400 folks over the past year to get some basic ideas about the issues. This was in western Oregon.....and the trend there was fewer people using the woods, fewer trails and campgrounds are open and there are more people riding noisy off-road vehicles.
As James put it: "They think that it's harder to find solitude."
I think there are facts which most folks tend to overlook. The bulk of all parks....are in out-of-range areas where folks have to travel a good piece to reach. Grand Canyon? Lets face it...most folks spend an entire day or two or even three on the road to reach the Grand Canyon. Go look at all the parks up in the Cascades of Washington. Frankly....this long-range driver and his family just aren't up to this kind of massive drive like they were in the 1960s and 1970s.
Camping? Go to a mall and talk to 100 women who are 35 years old and married. Around eighty percent want nothing to do with camping. Its the husband by himself with the kids or nothing. The idea of taking a pop-up camper and going off for seven days in the wilds of America.....is getting to be less of an option each and every year.
Entry fees? Well...if you buy the yearly pass...its around $80 now. If you were near a dozen parks and wanted a place to visit every sixty days for a entire Saturday....it'd be a good deal. The honest truth? Most folks are lucky if they live within six hours of one national park. And for the second park? Another six hours in the opposite direction.
The noise from the off-road machines might be one noise factor....but the sheer number of people who now frequent the parks and create their personal noise....without the aide of a off-road vehicle....adds up. If you wanted solitude on a trail....you might find sixty people in a two hour period marching down the trail in the midst of a quiet afternoon.
So now the question comes full circle. Does the decrease matter? No. The job of the National Park Service is simply to simply run the park. The numbers don't matter. It could be five million or five hundred thousand or five. It really doesn't matter. This is not a theme park....like Six Flags over the Cascades. For environmentalists who are disturbed about the numbers....you wanted less people....you readily discussed this and how things would be better with less people around. The numbers for 2009? I'm already suspecting another ten percent decrease.
America has some wonderful resources, which really need to be protected in some sense. It would be nice to know that in 300 years....all of these parks will be in full demand because of urban growth and the need to find a quiet place to observe nature. I have the feeling that things will continue on....and the park service survives.