Preliminary statistics from the National Park Service (NPS) show that visits to the nation’s parks last year jumped to a record 294 million, up more than 20 million from 2013. It’s also the second-largest one-year jump in the park system’s history.
According to National Parks Traveler, the bump in visitations could be due to lower gas prices, the improving economy, or better weather. What is certain, National Parks Traveler says, is that the government shutdown in 2013 significantly drove down the number of visits for that year. In October 2013, due to squabbles over funding issues in Congress, the federal government shut down, and the national parks remained closed for 16 days. A White House report estimated that the shutdown cost the NPS more than $500 million in visitor spending.
Derrick Crandall, counselor director of the National Parks Hospitality Association, told National Parks Traveler that the visitation total will likely rise as the NPS finalizes its 2014 numbers. “There have been a lot of efforts underway to try to reverse a two-decade pattern of decline and stagnation,” he said. “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.” Crandall also told the magazine that a big chunk of the increase came from international visits, which rose 6 percent.
As of right now, the parks and monuments with the biggest spikes in 2014 were Castle Clinton National Monument (2.5 million visits), the Statue of Liberty (2.1 million), and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina (1 million). However, some parks saw fewer visitors. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis underwent a renovation project last year that brought its numbers down.
Full tables of visitation can be found on the NPS statistics website.