Our National Parks are home to some of the most magnificent scenery in the country, from sprawling landscapes to dominate mountain peaks, there is a park for everyone.
Last year was the National Park Centennial anniversary and visitation numbers were higher across the board, overall there were over 330 million visitors in 2016, up more than 7% from 2015. It is exciting news that people are getting out and enjoying the parks, after all, they are public places that are meant for public use and enjoyment. But, as the number of visitors increase it can present many issues in terms of environmental impact. Bottle-neck traffic jams and increased pollution from vehicle exhaust, litter and waste left behind from irresponsible travelers and overflow/off-road parking damaging natural vegetation.
Although the boom is great for local business it also puts a strain on the infrastructure that supports those businesses. Public transportation, waste removal, fresh water supply, waste water treatment, when these systems get strained they lose efficiency and can have a spiraling effect on both environmental impact and public safety.
These are all things park services and local government need to take into consideration for future planning. As visitation increases the systems that support the parks need to be monitored and upgraded in conjunction.
This July I visited Acadia National Park as I have for the past several years, there has been a steady but noticeable increase in visitation over the past few years. 2016, the Centennial, was expectedly busy as the Park Service had been promoting the 100th Anniversary. I was surprised that 2017 seemed drastically more busy than the previous year.
Most of the major attractions of the park are well maintained, there are procedures in place to manage and impede the damage caused by tourists, trails have barriers in place to protect from erosion and overuse. Parking is designated to specific lots and off street parking is prohibited in most cases. But despite best efforts there is inevitably damage that does occur. There are routine trail closures to allow revegetation efforts to take hold, more permeant structure are put in place to prevent trail erosion, and ultimately enforcement has increased throughout the park by Park Rangers.
We need to remember that the beauty of these parks is their natural landscape, and simply by being there we are having an impact on that landscape. They are spectacular places to visit and have inspired people from all walks of life, when visiting just be mindful of the impact you have.