Story at a glance

  • U.S. national parks are overwhelmed as more visitors flock to them following coronavirus pandemic restrictions being lifted.
  • In July, Yellowstone National Park reached a record-breaking 1 million monthly visitors.
  • The National Park Service is implementing new strategies to stem the overcrowding and preserve the land.

As coronavirus pandemic restrictions were lifted, people began to flock to national parks in search of socially distant outdoor fun.

In July, Yellowstone National Park reached a record-breaking 1 million monthly visitors and, over Memorial Day weekend, Zion National Park had a four-hour wait time for its popular hikes.

“It’s no secret that this summer has been one of our busiest summers ever,” Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief spokesperson for the National Park Service (NPS), told The Guardian. “We don’t have official numbers, but preliminary visitation statistics show that the most popular 12 to 15 national parks are seeing record numbers.”


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However, the subsequent surge in visitors has left the NPS in search of new ways to stem the overwhelming flow of people to keep the activities safe and avoid overcrowding while protecting the land from the increased traffic.

One new and innovative solution that is increasingly being deployed: selfie stations.

In 2018, following a number of selfie-related deaths, the NPS released tips on how to take safe selfies and wildlife photos. Now, some conservation areas in the United States are installing selfie stations to promote less-traveled parts of the parks and encourage safe photo-taking.

The head of Iowa’s County Conservation System, Tom Hazelton, has helped the state install over 100 selfie stations, which are large wooden stands located in front of less-visited, but still beautiful, views in order to hold a visitor’s phone so they can take a photo of themselves.

“They’re nice, sturdy, cedar stations,” Hazelton said. “They are getting used and they are low maintenance and easy to build: the signs are $30 and the wood is another $60 and there you go.”


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The NPS is toying with a number of similarly creative ideas to mitigate overcrowding. Some parks are testing the use of autonomous vehicles to transport visitors from one site to the next to cut down on the number of cars traveling through the area and the need for more parking.

Larger national parks, including Yosemite National Park and Glacier National Park, among others, have implemented reservation systems to manage the flow of people.

On Facebook, the NPS encouraged visitors to have backup plans when arranging a trip and included reminders of lesser-known parks with equally stunning sights and hikes.

“Travel off the beaten path,” the NPS wrote. “There are more than 400 national parks across the country. We love exploring the lesser-known ones. They can be a great option for travelers looking for all the beauty of nature, hiking trails, and rich history, with fewer crowds and lines.”

 


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Published on Aug 31, 2021