Visitation shows modest increase<br>

At Desert View, where bus traffic isn’t driven by foreign tourism, bus visits dropped by nearly 2 percent, though car traffic increased by over 10 percent.

“A large component of this is visitation from other parks,” said O’Sickey. “Often this is the second or third park these folks are getting to.”

January’s numbers were less promising, however, with visitation down 4 percent from January 2003. Last month, 50,345 people visited the park, down from 56,481 the year before. O’Sickey said that indications in February could mean a reverse to that trend.

“It looks quiet around the park but as we get closer to spring break, things should pick up,” he said. “We were very busy on President’s Day weekend. Visitation was equally as heavy Monday as on Saturday and Sunday, which was kind of surprising. Usually that Monday is more like a normal day, but it looked good in comparison to the other two days.”

He said that provided the economy continues to improve and the world situation stabilizes, park officials expect an increase in the course of this year. However, visitation has a long way to go before it reaches pre-Sept. 11 levels close to the 4.46 million recorded for 2000.

In terms of growth Park Service-wide, Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada was one of the biggest winners, along with Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi, and San Francisco National Heritage Park in California. All three sites saw visitation increase by 400,000 over the previous year. Other Park Service units charting significant growth were Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado, Pu’ohonua O’ Honaunau in Hawaii, and Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, each counting 300,000 new visitors

Meanwhile, parks seeing the largest decline were Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia (down 3.2 million), George Washington Memorial Parkway in Washington D.C. (down 1.4 million), Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in Missouri (down 600,000), Olympic National Park in Washington (down 500,000), Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. (down 500,000) and Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey and New York (down 400,000).

Units of the National Park System received 265.4 million recreation visits from January-December 2003, down nearly 12 million from 2002. Sixty-one percent of the units (210 units) reported a decrease in visitation in 2003 with the biggest declines in the Washington D.C., down by 2.4 million visits, and metropolitan New York areas, down by 1.3 million. Units with National Park designation reported an overall decrease of 1.3 million, and more than two-thirds of the units with National Historic Site designation also reported a decline.

Visitation nationwide is still down by nearly 22 million when compared to pre-Sept. 11 levels.

Despite overall declines, the Park Service did see slight increases toward the end of the year. Visitation was up over the previous year by 400,000 in October and by 100,000 in November.

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