Americans and foreign visitors flocked to national parks in 2009

Numbers look good despite recession

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ten million more Americans and foreign tourists visited the nation's national parks last year than in 2008, a 3.9 percent increase that marked the fifth busiest year ever for the National Park System, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced recently.

"People both here and abroad know that our national parks are America's best idea, even during an economic downturn," Salazar said. "Our national parks are treasures that tell the story of our country and celebrate its beauty and culture, and they provide vacation bargains for families living on a tight budget. They offer priceless opportunities to inspire adults and children alike with our wonderful natural, cultural and historic heritage."

"In an increasingly sedentary society, our parks give parents a place to connect their children with nature and learn to appreciate the good feelings that come from healthy, green exercise," he said.

More than 285 million people visited national parks and other units of the National Park System during 2009, up from just under 275 million in 2008. This fell just short of the all-time visitation record of 287.2 million in 1987.

Possible reasons for the increase in visitation include three weekends last summer when the Park Service waived entrance fees, the visits by President Obama and his family to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, the publicity generated by Ken Burns' documentary on the history of the national parks, a decline in gasoline prices, and the continued strong exchange rate the Euro enjoys against the dollar.

Salazar highlighted the benefits national parks provide to our economy. A study released today revealed that the National Park System supports more than 223,000 jobs and nearly $14 billion in economic activity across the country.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park continued its reign as the most-visited national park in 2009, attracting 9.4 million visitors, while the Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited unit of the system with nearly 16 million visitors.

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