National Parks Drawing Fewer Young Visitors

Despite a record 292.8 million guests in 2014

Mar 24, 2015
Outside Magazine

The number of National Parks visitors under the age of 15 has dropped by half in the past 10 years.    Jeff Pang/Flickr

A recent CNN report by “Inside Man” Morgan Spurlock found that although America’s national parks drew a record 292.8 million visitors in 2014, the National Park Service (NPS) is having trouble attracting young people. Spurlock reports that the number of visitors under age 15 has dropped by half in the past 10 years. Visitors to Denali average 57 years old, and Yellowstone’s average guest is around 54.

Bob Roney, a retired Yosemite ranger, told CNN that the problem is younger generations are too plugged in for the outdoors. “People want modern conveniences,” he said. “Young people are more city oriented and tend not to be wildlands oriented.”

Not only that, but the average age of the park employees is becoming higher. According to CNN, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) says that half of the employees in park leadership are scheduled to retire by 2016. That would leave parks, which now have one guide for every 100,000 visitors, even further understaffed. Furthermore, 75 percent of NPS employees are 40 or older, and only 7 percent are 29 or younger.

NPCA program director Jodie Riesenberger said the NPS gets many more applicants than jobs that need filling, but added that the NPS hasn’t done a good job of recruiting younger employees. “Additionally, our national parks are facing a budget crisis,” she told CNN. “Even if there are ranger openings, they don’t always have the resources to fill them.”

One way the NPS is hoping to combat the decline in younger visitors and employees is through its Junior Ranger program. According to CNN, more than 800,000 kids, most between five and 13 years old, received patches and certificates through the program last year.

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