08-25 Badlands National Park

[Image above] Badlands National Park in South Dakota is one of 423 sites managed by the National Park Service. Credit: National Park Service, Flickr (public domain)

With many indoor venues closed or attendance limited due to coronavirus restrictions, a lot of people are instead spending their vacations outdoors at one of the 423 sites operated by the National Park Service.

The National Park Service is an agency of the United States federal government that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties. Established in 1916, the National Park Service celebrates its 105th anniversary today, August 25, by offering free admission to all of its sites and various activities on its website.

Credit: ABC News, YouTube

Though an increase in visitors to national parks is no doubt a good thing for people’s mental wellness, the National Park Service has been struggling to manage a vast influx of visitors.

“Hikers at Zion National Park, in Utah, have faced wait times of four hours to access certain trails. Visitors to Arches National Park, in the same state, are being turned away at the gate,” an article by The New York Times states.

While limited staffing and current COVID-19 guidelines do contribute to overcrowding, the issue is one that has been decades in the making, according to Michael Childers, a historian and national park expert at Colorado State University, in a Live Science article.

Childers explains that in the past, two other significant increases in visitor numbers occurred when automobiles made travel more affordable in the 1920s and national affluence caused a huge spike in tourism in the 1950s.

On both occasions, increased federal government spending for national park infrastructure helped accommodate the demand, but it “also served to make the parks even more accessible, which is what we are struggling with today,” Childers explains.

Ticketed-entry systems are one way to help manage overcrowding. In the long term, more government funding to improve infrastructure and increase staffing levels can help as well.

For people looking to visit a park right now, however, National Park Service rangers highly recommend that the best way to avoid crowds is to explore some of the less well-known sites. Check out some of the more inconspicuous national parks in the video below, and plan your trip using the new National Park Service phone app, which launched in April.

Credit: MojoTravels, YouTube

As noted, parks are not the only type of property that the National Park Service manages. There are 19 naming designations used to classify the 423 sites, which you can learn about in the video below.

Credit: National Park Diaries, YouTube