Cheap gas prices could help the National Park Service set visitation records for the second consecutive year on the eve of its 100 year anniversary.
Total visitation to the 370 national parks, monuments, recreation sites and other destinations managed by the National Park Service (NPS) grew 5.62 percent in September to 29.8 million, pushing visitation for the first nine months of the year up 3.62 percent to 247.0 million, according to preliminary NPS data. That puts the NPS on pace to beat last year's record visitation levels.
National park visitation set a record in 2014 when it surged 7.0 percent to 292.8 million after dipping to an eight-year low in 2013, NPS data show. The NPS celebrates its centennial in 2016.
As of Sept. 30, half of the country's ten most popular national parks outside of Washington D.C. reported declines in year-to-date participation and half reported increases.
Among those reporting increases were:
- Blue Ridge Parkway – up 10.0 percent
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park – up 5.5 percent
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area – up 5.0 percent
- Grand Canyon National Park – up 14.8 percent
- Yellowstone National Park, up 16.0 percent
Tent overnight stays at the 370 sites tracked by the National Park System remains on track to grow 10.68 percent over last year, when it reached a four-year high, but remained well below its 1992 peak, when there were far fewer camp sites.
While the number of tent campers at NPS managed sites dipped nearly 33,000 to 314,677 in September, visitation through the first nine months of year totaled 3.18 million, up 307,000 from the same period in 2014.