More Yellowstone Visitors Mean More Yellowstone Headaches
A lot of people who like and visit Yellowstone National Park say the problem with Yellowstone National Park is there are too many people who like and visit Yellowstone National Park, according to the results of two studies released by the park.
Visits have increased by more than 40 percent since 2008, and they are testing the park's dual mission of maintaining a world-class ecosystem and providing a safe and high-quality experience for the millions of people who want to enjoy it.
“Historic and recent trends demonstrate that visitation will increase over the long-term, therefore, it is imperative for us to plan now,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a news release.
“Good visitor use management will allow the park to protect resources, encourage access, and improve experiences," Wenk said.
Nearly 4.3 million people visited the park in 2016.
The 2016 Visitor Use Study shows that people enjoy and care about the park, but more than half of them surveyed said it’s too crowded during the summer season.
This study found 83 percent of Yellowstone’s visitors are from the United States. International visitors mostly come from Europe, China and Canada respectively.
The Transportation and Vehicle Mobility Study, also completed in 2016, revealed parking lots are overflowing, traffic jams abound, and roadway safety incidents are on the rise in the most heavily traveled corridors.
The busiest roads connect Yellowstone’s West Entrance with attractions in the western and central parts of the park including Old Faithful, other geyser basins, the Canyon Area, Hayden Valley, Fishing Bridge, and Lake Village.
During much of the summer season, there are on average nearly 30 percent more vehicles using these corridors than those roads can comfortably and safely handle.
Other roads endure high traffic levels, too. Vehicles closely follow other vehicles 60 percent to 80 percent of the time.
It will get worse.
The Transportation and Vehicle Mobility Study, assuming a conservative 3.7 percent to 5.3 percent annual traffic volume growth rate, projects all roadways in the park will perform poorly by 2021-2023.
Two-thirds of park visitors surveyed said finding available parking is a problem. More than half said the amount of roadway traffic and congestion are problems.
Park officials say the data from these two new reports coupled with internal data about impacts on resources, will help them consider management strategies such as communication and traffic systems, shuttle systems and other transportation alternatives, and reservations or timed-entry systems. These strategies could be implemented in key locations or parkwide.
The park will continue to gather information, including focused studies through 2019, from interest groups about their ideas to deal with summer visitation to guide managers as they develop these strategies.
The full reports are available to read and/or download on the park’s summer use planning webpage.