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.
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
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
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