National Park Crowds: Rangers say, "We are breaking records every month"

Next week, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary and employees are busy welcoming visitors to come out and experience nature. 8/17/16 (Ray Arzate | KSNV)

A snapshot of summer in Zion National Park. For the Webster family from Folsom, California, visiting Zion is a chance to skip rocks in the chilly waters of the Virgin River. It represents one last road trip before the kids head back to school.

"We've been very lucky to see lots of great places all over the world," said Mom, Brooke Webster. “Now it’s time to be in our own backyard.”

The problem is, that backyard is feeling a little tight. Visitation at many of our National Parks is exploding. There are long lines for shuttle buses and finding a place to park can be impossible. If you’re planning a trip to Zion, you’re clearly not alone.

"We are breaking records every month," said park Spokesperson Aly Baltrus."And a lot of times, every single week."

Baltrus said last year, 3.6 million people visited Zion. This year, it’s already up another 11%. Now employees are working on a two-and-a-half year visitor use management plan to figure out just how many people can fit in the canyon without damaging its resources.

"I can never say we're loving it to death," said Baltrus. "But are we overusing it? That is definitely a concern here. We're definitely seeing more trash, more graffiti, we are seeing impact on vegetation. We really ask people to park in designated areas only and stay on trail."

Baltrus said in some areas it’s a safety issue. Visitors need to wait their turn on narrow paths with steep drop-offs. Meantime, employees and interns work the crowd. They’ve been busy answering questions and helping visitors plan their day.

As for why this explosion in visitation is happening in 2016, rangers think there’s a number of reasons. The economy is good, gas prices are reasonable, and in Zion, an aggressive advertising campaign for the National Parks has done its job.

Zion isn’t alone.

In 2015, the Grand Canyon surpassed the 5 million visitor mark for the first time, welcoming 5.5 million people. At Lake Mead, 7.2 million guests in 2015, making it the 5th most visited park in the system.

Still, all of this tourism has its benefits.

Shelley Cox owns Blondie’s Diner in Springdale, Utah. It’s considered the gateway to Zion and Cox says, business is good although she’s heard the grumbling.

"Yesterday we had a gentleman in that said he waited an hour in line in the park for the shuttle, and got so upset he just left," she said.

Still, there’s a reason that the park is so popular. Kay Bennett from the U.K. sums it up like this:

"It's beautiful, really beautiful."

Back at the river, the Websters finish off a rock peace sign.

"I think the world is in need of a little bit of peace right now," said Brooke.

It’s a message for the next family, on their own summer road trip to Zion to see what our National Parks truly have to offer.

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