Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How they count

2008 National Park visitation statistics were released last week.

"Visitation statics for 2008 are out. Overall, there were approximately 275 million visits Servicewide, about the same as last year. Since 1916, there have been 11.7 billion visits to the National Park System.

The top ten most visited areas in the NPS last year were:

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway – 16,309,307
  2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area – 14,554,750
  3. Gateway National Recreation Area – 9,431,021
  4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 9,044,010
  5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area – 7,601,863
  6. George Washington Memorial Parkway – 7,009,630
  7. Natchez Trace Parkway – 5,747,235
  8. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – 5,127,074
  9. Lincoln Memorial – 4,678,861
  10. Cape Cod National Seashore – 4,644,235

The ten most visited national parks were:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains NP – 9,044,010
  2. Grand Canyon NP – 4,425,314
  3. Yosemite NP – 3,431,514
  4. Olympic NP – 3,081,451
  5. Yellowstone NP – 3,066,580
  6. Cuyahoga Valley NP – 2,828,233
  7. Rocky Mountain NP – 2,757,390
  8. Zion NP – 2,690,154
  9. Grand Teton NP – 2,485,987
  10. Acadia NP – 2,075,857"
(from http://home.nps.gov/applications/morningreport/morningreportold.cfm)

Not a lot of surprises on the list, but it got me wondering how the good folks at the park service determine these figures. After only a few keystrokes, I found this URL: http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/index.cfm, a goldmine of NPS stats.

One could wander these pages for quite some time -- there's a ton of interesting info, including how NPS determines the number of recreation visits for each park or area. Here's the page for Point Reyes:
http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/CountingInstructions/PORECI1994.pdf,
revealing that pneumatic tube traffic counters are placed at:
visitor center
entrance lane to Limantour Road
entrance lane to Five Brooks
entrance lane to Palomarin
entrance lane to Pierce Point Road
entrance lane to Sir Francis Drake (I'm guessing that means at the Pierce Point/SFD split)

In addition, visitation to Bolinas Ridge, Commonweal, and Tocaloma is determined by trailhead vehicle count.

The traffic count is multiplied by the persons-per-vehicle (PPV) multiplier of 2 for all the above except the visitor center, Pierce Point Road, and Sir Francis Drake, all of which get a PPV of 4. An estimatation of non-recreation visitor vehicles is then subtracted.

Similar information seems to available for all the NPS sites (I didn't check them all), with additional visitation comments such as dates a park was closed due to weather, malfunctioning pneumatic tubes, and even when counting equipment is stolen.

While I was poking through the stats I looked up the 2008 visitor counts for some of my favorite California national parks, and here's how they stacked up:
GGNRA 14,554,750
Point Reyes 2,248,203
Joshua Tree 1,392,446
Sequoia 930,011
Death Valley 871,938
Muir Woods 838,292
Kings Canyon 574,870
Redwood 396,899
Lassen 377,361

Definitely some surprises. Joshua Tree's visits are nearly double Death Valley, and Lassen, wow, that's a low figure.

Here's a photo from one of my favorite California national park campsites. Anyone know where it is?