Olympic National Park
There's something about getting outside that feels good. That's not a groundbreaking revelation, sure, but it's one that's easy to forget. From playing soccer in the park to dangling off cliffs, being in nature somehow underscores our fundamental human needs: participation, freedom, identity. For me, backpacking does it. The opportunity to detach from routine and make exploratory choices never disappoints.
So I'd like to express thanks for the millions of acres—no joke—of wilderness available to us in the US. An enormous thank you to the National Park Service, which turns 100 today, for preserving these historical and ecological spaces. I am so glad that Woodrow Wilson (and some other folks) were forward-thinking enough to recognize how important it would be to protect our natural resources, tout them, and back it all up with policy!
Before you read on, first jot down your answers to this short quiz:
- What was the first national park?
- Which national park has been visited the most in history?
- When were national parks the least popular?
- How many people visited the Grand Canyon in 2015?
Let's start this retrospective in 1904, and see what we can learn.
Yellowstone: The first national park
Hovering over the timeline reveals Yellowstone was our first national park. And although NPS visitation data only goes back to 1904, Yellowstone National Park was in fact established in 1872, making it the first in the US. It was also the first in the world, defined at the time to be the first "public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." (Can we bring back these immaculate descriptors?)
Our most popular national park: The Smokies
Did you guess that the Great Smoky Mountains is the nation's most popular national park? I didn't. Before analyzing data from the NPS, I would have answered Yosemite or Yellowstone. It's probably a West Coast bias, but I had no idea the Smokies were so popular. And by popular, I mean upwards of 880 million visitors since the park opened in the 1930s.
Declining attendance in the late '70s
Our viz makes it clear that there has never been a serious slump in national park attendance, but things did look a bit iffy in the late '70s. By adjusting the Year slider, we easily see that a drop in visitation occurs between 1978 and 1979. Your guess is as good as mine as to why this is, but 1979's energy crisis might have been enough to deter hikers from taking the sometimes-long road trip required to get out to national parks.
Grand Canyon attendance
In 2015, the Grand Canyon had 5.5 million visitors, an all-time high. Known for its awesome (in the truest sense of the word) viewpoints and plunges, it's not difficult to see why dads across the nation refer to the park as "gorgeous."
Grand Canyon National Park
Let us know what other discoveries you make exploring 100 years of National Park Service data! Then ditch the device and take advantage of those safeguarded natural and cultural resources. You know you want to.
Feeling inspired? Celebrate the NPS on its centennial. Park entrance fees are waived nationwide August 25 through August 28 to encourage learning and exploration of our national parks. You can also join the conversation on your social media platform of choice with #FindYourPark and #NPS100.