I just returned from a visit to Yellowstone and environs. My observation was that in mid-May the Park was a great deal more crowded than only 10 or so years ago (turns out my experiences and Park Service data are similar). There are at least three kinds of reasons for any open place to become more crowded:
A) People moving near forests because they like to recreate (increasing population in the local area)- therefore more use. This can lead to more crowding, on trails and on the roads in town, and ultimately being priced out of local real estate. Think Bend, Oregon, and so many others. But what can you do?
B) People who weekend or day trip in national forests from nearby urban or rural areas (what I’d call semilocal: 1-3 hours). As these areas grow in population, for whatever reason so does the use.
C) People attracted from other parts of the country, and the world to “location destinations” (some people would like their area to become one in the future, and would like to Parkify or Monumentize, others fear crowding and being priced out beyond the inevitable A and B.
The difference between C, and A and B, is that C is the product of active campaigns to get more folks to visit and spend more money. A’s, as they move into the community, may also contribute and volunteer on their local forest. Even frequent B’s often have special relationships with certain forests. Now I’m not seeing a stark difference, more of a continuum, but the Yellowstone Region has more C than other places I visit. When someone says “we want to be a world-class destination”, I’ll ask “who is “we”?” I like things the way they are, or with fewer people than now.
Here’s a few quotes from this newspaper article in Montana Untamed:
When asked if national parks and Yellowstone in specific are suffering from the success of national advertising campaigns encouraging visitation, Warthin said the promotions may have raised the profile of Yellowstone nationally and internationally, providing an opportunity to pass on messages about the “heavy responsibility we all have” to protect the park’s unique natural resources by being good stewards of the landscape and its wildlife.
The study noted that the number of tour buses visiting the park has doubled since 2010. “The West Entrance, already the park’s busiest by more than double the volume of any other gate, saw a 21 percent increase in visitation over 2014. From early June through late September, traffic backups at this entrance led to gridlock on four or more days a week in the town of West Yellowstone. Once through this entrance, stop-and-go traffic often continued inside the park for 11 miles to the Madison Junction, with driving times through this corridor consistently reported at two hours.”
According to this Billings Gazette newspaper article, there has been a 50% increase in visitation in Yellowstone since 2000, and the Gallatin has increased 39% in the visitation between 2008 and 2013.
Here’s a quote from the article that summarizes the problem:
With more active people crowded into one wild space, what will the effects be on wildlife, the land and its waters? At what point does selling, building upon and using the resource compromise the very wildlands that first enticed everyone to the region? And how can so many people with such different ideas of playing in those places ever come to an agreement on controlling or even reducing use?
Some thoughts.. with regard to the local (rafting, ziplining, etc.) businesses that depend on visitors.. is that also “corporate greed” that has “corrupted” local officials in the framing we sometimes hear about other forest uses? Or just folks who are trying to make a living and their elected representatives? How can you balance the commercial and the individual uses if there is an environmental “ceiling” for recreation? And most mystifyingly, how can some of the many (many, many!) $ people are spending be channeled back into the Forests to help support and protect them (Parks have many mechanisms)?