Campus News

Study: Recession drives down national park visits

A national recession doesn’t just affect Americans’ wallets. It also impacts their travel to national parks, a new UGA study has found.

Recent statistics released by the U.S. Department of the Interior already noted the significant decrease in national park visitation—dropping nearly 10 million since 1998 to 278 million visitors—but this is the first study to link the drop to a bad economy. The findings could help park managers plan ahead for revenue shortfalls and a decrease in visitation, particularly as the economic forecast remains bleak.

Researchers in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Catholic University of Korea’s department of economics conducted the new study, recently published in Tourism Management.

“Economic downturns come and go, but the impact on resource conservation and visitor management could last longer,” said Neelam Poudyal, an assistant professor in the Warnell School. “Therefore, understanding whether and how recession impacts visitation could inform managers of what to expect during these tough economic times.”

The study was led by Poudyal and Michael Tarrant, a Warnell School professor and director of the study-abroad program Global Programs in Sustainability.

Although overall national park visitation has dropped, the decrease has not been uniform, according to the Interior Department. Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks, for instance, have experienced notable increases in visitation between 2000 and 2011. However, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most visited national park in the U.S., saw a 7 percent decrease in visitation over the same time period. 

Other state parks have seen similar or worse declines in visitation.

The increases for Yosemite and Yellowstone could be because the parks have high international recognition, Tarrant said.