National Park System Visitation Was Up More Than 20 Million In 2014, To A Record 294 Million
By Kurt Repaneshek
Whether due to lower gas costs, better weather, or an improving economy, the bottom line for the National Park System for 2014 was impressive: An increase of more than 20 million visitors over 2013 levels, for a record 294 million, according to unofficial statistics from the National Park Service.
No doubt part of the big bump is tied to the lack of a shutdown of the National Park System, which was seen in October 2013 as Congress grappled over government funding issues. The end of major construction that closed monuments for some, if not all, of 2013, also led to a rebound in numbers. But construction in 2014 also led to declines, as noticed at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, which underwent a major renovation project last year that dampened traffic.
The numbers currently posted on the Park Service's statistics website will be updated in the weeks ahead. Currently, many parks are listing December 2013 numbers for December 2014 -- 196 parks have yet to provide December 2014 visitation counts -- and so the final tally will change, possibly sustantially. The growth is being welcomed by the National Park Hospitality Association, where Counselor Director Derrick Crandall said the group, which represents concessionaires across the system, was "delighted with the climb."
"There have been a lot of efforts underway to try to reverse a two-decade pattern of decline and stagnation," he said via email. "When you look at the data, note that most of the December 2014 data is actually 2013 – so we don’t have a real total year measure yet. Note, too, that the big increases came from a few areas, including NYC with the reopening of Liberty and Ellis Islands and the Castle Clinton base for those tours, and the October 2014 operations at parks significantly hit by the shutdown in 2013, like Shenandoah.
"And there was a very strong increase in international visitation in 2014 (6 percent), supported in part by the efforts connected with the National Travel and Tourism Strategy," said Mr. Crandall.
The unofficial 2014 tally marks the second-greatest one-year jump in visitation ever in the park system. Back in the 1970s, the 1975 total of 188,085,700 jumped by more than 27 million, to 215,359,800, the following year.
Big 2014 gains were seen throughout the park system:
* The Blue Ridge Parkway, which can see ice and snow storms keep visitors away, saw an increase of just more than 1 million in 2014, to 13.9 million.
* Castle Clinton National Monument in New York City, which had been virtually shut down by Hurricane Sandy, jumped 2.5 million, to 4.7 million.
* Acadia National Park in Maine was up 304,553, to 2.55 million.
* Arches National Park in Utah was up 201,901, to 1.3 million.
* Canaveral National Seashore in Florida was up 307,974, to 1.4 million.
* Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia was up 176,019, to 3.3 million.
* Great Smoky Mountains National Park was up 744,276, to 10 million.
* Haleakala National Park in Hawaii was up 308,850, to 1.1 million.
* The Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in the District of Columbia was up 558,008, to 3.76 million.
* The Washington Monument, which was closed throughout 2013 due to structural problems, counted 391,490 visitors.
* Statue of Liberty National Monument was up 2.1 million, to 3.97 million.
But there were drops, as well.
* World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument was off 279,744, to 1.5 million.
* Point Reyes National Seashore in California was down 183,821, to 2.4 million.
* Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in the District of Columbia was down 203,796, to 54,035.
* New Orleans Jazz NHP was off 151,823, to 46,540.
* Morristown NHP in New Jersey dropped 132,443, to 172,498.
* Kings Canyon National Park in California was down 73,476, to 494,068.
* Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis was down 548,274, to 1,828,984.
* Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi was off 360,804, to 4,477,161.