Michael Childers, Colorado State University
If you’re heading into nature this summer, you may need to jump online and book a reservation before you go. For the second year in a row, reservations are required to visit Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Parks. Other popular sites, including Maine’s Acadia National Park, encourage visitors to purchase entrance passes in advance.
Limiting visitors has two objectives: reducing the risk of COVID-19 and allowing some parks to recover from recent forest fires. Rocky Mountain will allow 75 to 85% of the capacity. Yosemite will again limit the number of vehicles allowed; last year, it welcomed half of its 4 million annual visitors on average.
Nationally, some US parks were more empty than normal during the pandemic, while Yellowstone and others were nearly full. But the pandemic has likely been a temporary hiatus in a rising tide of visitors.
America’s national parks are facing a popularity slump. From 2010 to 2019, the number of visitors to national parks increased from 281 million to 327 million, largely thanks to social media, advertising and increased foreign tourism.
This exponential growth generates pollution and endangers wildlife to a degree that threatens the future of the park system. And with Americans keen to re-enter the world, the summer of 2021 promises to be one of the busiest domestic travel seasons in recent history. Reservations and other visitor management policies could become features in many of the more popular parks.
Protect precious lands
In my work, I have explored the history of national parks and the factors that lead people to seek out outdoor experiences. I also studied the impacts of visiting national parks and how to prevent the public from loving national parks to death.
Much of this research has focused on California’s Yosemite National Park, which contains nearly 1,200 square miles of wilderness, including iconic granite rock formations, deep valleys, waterfalls, and ancient giant sequoias.
Its creation dates from the civil war. In 1864, with this landscape threatened by an influx of settlers and visitors, Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Act, which ceded the area to California for “public use, recreation, and recreation.” This step set a precedent that the parks were for the benefit and enjoyment of all. Congress made Yosemite a national park in 1890.
Influenced by naturalist John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt created five new parks in the early 1900s, as well as 16 national monuments including the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt wanted to protect these natural treasures from hunting, mining, logging and other exploitation.
To coordinate management, Congress created the National Park Service and the National Park System in 1916. The National Park Service Organic Act directs the agency to protect wildlife and the natural and cultural heritage of parks “as and by the means which will enable them to remain intact for the enjoyment of future generations “- a mission which is becoming increasingly difficult today.
Love parks to death
Americans fell in love with their parks – and several waves of overpopularity nearly destroyed the very experiences that attracted people there.
The advent of auto tourism in the 1920s opened national parks to hundreds of thousands of new visitors, who overwhelmed roads, trails, washrooms, water treatment systems, and facilities for limited visitors. and aging. Ironically, relief came during the Great Depression. The New Deal funded massive construction projects in the parks, including camping toilet blocks, museums and other structures. Hundreds of kilometers of roads and trails have opened up the wild hinterland.
Between 1929 and 1941, the number of annual visitors to the park increased from 3 million to 20 million. This growing torrent did not slow down until the United States entered World War II.
In the post-war boom, people came back in droves. The National Park Service launched “Mission 66”, another wave of construction that further increased capacity.
Environmentalists and others have condemned the development, alarmed by its environmental impacts and the threat of overpopulation. By the mid-1960s, the total number of annual visits to the park exceeded 100 million.
Riding the wave of tourism
Today, the network of national parks has grown to include 63 national parks, with more and more visitors, as well as 360 sites with other designations, such as national shores, monuments and fields. battle. Some of these other sites, such as Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts and Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, also attract millions of visitors each year.
In 2019, a record 327 million people visited national parks, with the heaviest impacts on parks located near cities, such as Rocky Mountain National Park outside Denver. This overcrowding has brought to light issues that have preoccupied park officials for years: Parks are underfunded, overcrowded, oversized, and threatened by air and water pollution in violation of laws and decrees that protect them.
Horror stories in parks have become common in recent years. They include several-mile traffic jams in Yellowstone, a three-hour wait to enter Yosemite, trails littered with trash, and confrontations between tourists and wildlife.
In 2020, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will provide up to US $ 1.9 billion per year for five years to fill the park system’s nearly $ 12 billion maintenance backlog. This long list of postponed projects reflects Congress’ reluctance to adequately fund the national park system for many years.
But as the New Deal and Mission 66 demonstrated, increased infrastructure spending often increases the number of visits. The Great American Outdoors Act does not cover conservation efforts or significant staffing needs, which will require increased federal funding. Many repairs are needed in all parks, but the future sustainability of the system depends more on people than on infrastructure.
And neither more money nor more forest guards will solve the overpopulation crisis. I think the most popular national parks need a reservation system to save these protected lands from further damage.
This will not be a popular solution, as it contradicts the founding principle that national parks were built for the public good and enjoyment. Critics have already created a petition opposing entry permits to Rocky Mountain National Park as unnecessary, unfair, undemocratic and discriminatory.
But the relentless popularity of the parks makes it impossible to preserve them “unharmed”. In my opinion, crowd control has become essential in the most popular parks.
Although there is only one Yosemite Valley, the national park system offers many less traveled destinations. Sites such as the Hovenweep National Monument in Colorado and Utah and the Brown v. Board of Education in Kansas deserve attention for their natural beauty and the depth they add to the common heritage of Americans.[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]
Michael Childers, Assistant Professor of History, Colorado State University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.