Visitors to the major national parks in the western U.S. are likely to find fewer crowds this year due to a drop in Asian visitors and a decline in motorcoaches entering the parks, officials said.

The drop has already started and was particularly dramatic at Grand Canyon National Park, which reported an 11% decline in visitors last year compared with 1997, when 5 million people visited the park.

Pow Wow logoOther parks experiencing drops included Death Valley National Park (9%), Zion National Park (3%), while Bryce Canyon National Park was flat from 1997 to 1998.

At Yosemite National Park in California, day visits by motorcoaches were down 18% in 1998 compared with the previous year, and early figures for 1999 do not show much of an improvement. "It's a very significant reduction," said George Spach, vice president of sales and marketing for Yosemite Concession Services. "It's a combination of the economics in the Asian markets and uncertainty over national park fees and bus policies."

Amfac Parks & Resorts, the concessioner at Grand Can-yon, Bryce and Zion, said the decline at those parks can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the drop in Asian visitors and a perception among the U.S. public that parks are too crowded. "We've heard for years that 'we're loving our parks to death,' with the implication that parks are overcrowded and crumbling," said Andy Todd, Amfac's president and chief executive officer. "In fact, visitation has been consistently dropping."

Amfac, which operates lodges, restaurants and other concessions at Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Zion, Everglades and Mount Rushmore, among other national parks, did not have specific figures on the drop of visitors from Asian countries. However, an Amfac spokeswoman said, "We know the number of rooms booked by tour wholesalers from Asian countries is down."

Meanwhile, some of the parks that are experiencing the visitation declines have also recently completed facility improvements. This spring, construction was scheduled to start on the Canyon View Information Plaza at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The significance of the new plaza is that it is one of the first national park efforts to limit cars in the parks and minimize the impact of millions of visitors to the most heavily traveled parks.

By 2002, day visitors arriving by car will drive to the town of Tusayan and board a light-rail system that will take them six miles to the plaza. From there, alternative-fuel and electric buses will take visitors to points around the South Rim and to Desert View.

Motorcoaches and over-night visitors will still be allowed to drive to lodges. A similar type of shuttle system is being discussed for Yosemite and Zion national parks.

In other news from the western parks:

  • Delaware North, which owns Yosemite Concession Services, will open a 104-room hotel in Sequoia National Park, south of Yosemite, in May. Called Wuksachi Village and Lodge, the property is near the famous groves of sequoia trees native to California's Sierra range. The company has a new number for group sales: (559) 561-0124.
  • Yosemite Concession Services installed a $3 million reservations system that it said allows for improved and more flexible packaging of group travel modules, including one-hour tours of Yosemite.
  • The Maswik North Lodge, a 278-room facility at the southwest end of Grand Canyon Village, announced a $1 million renovation of its guest rooms, to be completed by summer 2000. The renovation follows a similar $1 million renovation of the famous El Tovar hotel in 1998.
  • Amfac opened phase one of the new Old Faithful Snow Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, a $19 million lodge located near the famous geyser. Phase one, with 52 rooms, opened in 1998, and phase two, with 48 more rooms, is scheduled to open in May. It is one of two properties open both summer and winter at Yellowstone.
  • Construction is nearly completed on the $3.7 million, 44-room Dunraven Lodge in Yellowstone, another partnership between Amfac and the National Park Service.
  • Located in the canyon area of the park, it is expected to open in June. The project features stick construction with log and rock trim and wood shingles.n

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