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Testimony on Overcrowding in National Parks

  • Hannah Downey
  • Crowding at Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk near Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. © NPS

    Testimony before the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Hearing on “Lessons from the Field: Overcrowding in National Parks”

    Main Points
    • Recent visitation growth in some national parks comes with real management challenges for ensuring a quality visitor experience and protecting park resources.
    • There is no “one size fits all” solution to accommodate crowding at parks. Park superintendents should have the flexibility to respond creatively with solutions best suited for their individual parks. 
    • Addressing infrastructure maintenance needs can help alleviate the impacts of overcrowding while also helping distribute visitors more widely within congested parks. 
    • National park visitors can be a part of solutions to congestion through existing funding models that direct visitor fees back into creating a positive visitor experience in parks. 

    Chairwoman Porter, Ranking Member Moore, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss ways to address the challenges associated with recent increases in visitation to our national parks. My name is Hannah Downey, and I am the policy director at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a conservation research institute based in Bozeman, Montana. For more than 40 years, PERC has explored market-based solutions to conservation challenges, including managing our national parks. 

    Americans are rediscovering the outdoors in record numbers. National park attendance has been rising over the past decade, with a surge in the years leading up to the  Covid-19 pandemic, and for many parks during the pandemic itself. As conservationists, it is encouraging to see widespread interest in national parks because it shows Americans care deeply about enjoying their public lands. This increase in visitor pressure, however, comes with challenges for park managers, such as traffic jams, crumbling roads, overused wastewater systems, and other impacts to park resources and infrastructure. While it is important to note that not all national park system units are experiencing overcrowding, those that are seeing visitor booms must find creative ways to ensure quality visitor experiences while protecting park resources. 

    My testimony will argue that there is no “one size fits all” solution to accommodating increased visitation challenges in national parks. Park superintendents should have flexibility to respond creatively with solutions best suited for their individual parks, which are often different in their geography and layout. Congress and the National Park Service have an opportunity to harness enthusiasm for America’s national parks in ways that empower local park superintendents to get creative, address their infrastructure and maintenance needs, and alleviate the pressures of visitation growth in national parks.

    Written By
    • Hannah Downey
      • Policy Director

      Hannah Downey is the policy director at PERC, helping to bring PERC ideas to the policy world.

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