Monthly Archives: February 2016

It’s official: 307M park visits in 2015

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

This just in from the National Park Service:

President Theodore Roosevelt was reelected in 1904, the same year rangers started counting national park visitors.

There were more than 120,000 visits to America’s 11 national parks in the first year of counting. This week, the National Park Service (NPS) certified 2015 national park visitation at more than 307 million. It also released its popular Top 10 list of the most visited national park sites.

“The popularity of national parks is well known, but last year’s numbers really are extraordinary,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th year, we’re preparing to welcome more visitors than ever including a new generation of park supporters and advocates who are discovering their own national park adventures.”

Today’s figures were an increase from the unofficial visitation total of 305 million reported by the NPS in January. The difference is attributed to the recently-completed NPS visitation audit.

2015 visitation highlights include:

  • 307,247,252 recreation visits, a 4.9 percent increase over 2014 and the previous record of 292.8 million recreation visits.
  • 371 of the 410 parks in the National Park System report visitation.
  • 57 of the 371 reporting parks set a new record for annual recreation visits. Eleven parks had more than 5 million recreation visits in 2015.

Notable park milestones in 2015:

–Joshua Tree National Park surpassed 2 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Rocky Mountain National Park surpassed 4 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Yellowstone National Park surpassed 4 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Grand Canyon National Park surpassed 5 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Glacier National Park surpassed 100 million total recreation visits (1910 to 2015)

–2 parks are reporting visitation for the first time:

  1. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
  2. Waco Mammoth National Monument

Most visited parks:

All Parks of the National Park System:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway – 15,054,603

2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area – 14,888,537

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 10,712,674

4. Lincoln Memorial – 7,941,771

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area – 7,298,465

6. George Washington Memorial Parkway – 7,286,463

7. Gateway National Recreation Area – 6,392,565

8. Natchez Trace Parkway – 5,785,812

9. Vietnam Veterans Memorial – 5,597,077

10. Grand Canyon National Park – 5,520,736

National Parks:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 10,712,674

2. Grand Canyon National Park – 5,520,736

3. Rocky Mountain National Park – 4,155,916

4. Yosemite National Park – 4,150,217

5. Yellowstone National Park – 4,097,710

6. Zion National Park – 3,648,846

7. Olympic National Park – 3,263,761

8. Grand Teton National Park – 3,149,921

9. Acadia National Park – 2,811,184

10. Glacier National Park – 2,366,056

6 national parks celebrating Black History Month

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In honor of Black History Month, let’s look at some national park units celebrating African Americans who helped mold this nation with grit, intelligence and, often, wit.

Here are several of my favorites:

African Burial Ground National MonumentNew York. An intense spot for contemplation amid the bustle of Lower Manhattan.

Boston African American National Historic Site, Massachusetts. In the heart of Boston, these sites celebrate freedom. They include the oldest African American church in the US, which dates from 1806.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, District of Columbia. Douglass’ home is so well preserved that it feels as if the great human rights activist has stepped away for just a moment.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia and Maryland. This is a fascinating place where energy, nature, personalities and ideologies have converged time-and-again.

Lincoln Memorial, District of Columbia. Larger than life. Period.

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, Florida. Equal parts thrilling and chilling where the lines of slavery became blurred.

There are many more National Park Service sites celebrating African American heritage. Explore them here. 

A few of my favorite Frederick Douglass quotes:

“People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

“The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither person nor property is safe.”

Find your park. 

Photo courtesy of the NPS.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.


A preservation trio in the California desert

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Today President Obama used the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate three new national monuments in the California desert: Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument.

The new protected areas will connect Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve and 15 congressionally-designated wilderness areas. In combination, the tracts will create a 10 million-acre desert ecosystem that will provide critical corridors for species with lengthy ranges including mountain lions and bighorn sheep.


The new monuments cover canyons and dunes, rock spires and petroglyphs, Joshua Trees and Cholla cacti, and 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

As detailed in a White House blog today:

Mojave Trails NM: “Spanning 1.6 million acres, including 400,000 acres of previously congressionally-designated Wilderness, the Mojave Trails National Monument is comprised of a stunning mosaic of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, and spectacular sand dunes.”

Sand to Snow NM: “Encompassing 154,000 acres, including just over 100,000 acres of already congressionally-designated Wilderness, Sand to Snow National Monument is an ecological and cultural treasure and one of the most biodiverse areas in southern California, supporting more than 240 species of birds and 12 threatened and endangered wildlife species.”

Castle Mountains NM: “The 20,920-acre monument will serve as a critical connection between two mountain ranges, protecting water resources, plants, and wildlife such as golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and bobcats.”

Of the designations, the president said, “…it’s our responsibility to protect these treasures for future generations, just as previous generations protected them for us.”

Find your park.

Photo of the Mojave Trails National Monument courtesy DOI.

These (tropical) lands are your lands

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Love this post from the Department of the Interior celebrating six stunning (and way warmer than most of the continental U.S. is right now) sites that are also public lands. National Park of American Samoa, in particular, is one I’m salivating over.

I need to take issue, however, with one place the DOI left out: San Juan National Historic Site in my favorite U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico. Protected there is the oldest European construction in the U.S. and one heck of a beautiful spot to spend a day.

The six-level Castillo San Felipe del Morro, overlooking the entrance to San Juan Bay, took the Spanish 250 years to build. Its sister fortification, Castillo San Cristóbal, protected the city from land invaders. At 27 acres, it’s the largest fort the Spanish built in the New World. The views of the coastline make me wonder if, at least some of the time, the soldiers posted here enjoyed keeping watch.