After being homebound and indoors for much of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that Americans have turned to the great outdoors to experience a sense of freedom, if not normalcy.
Newfound popularity of national parks
National parks have experienced a surge in popularity. Yellowstone National Park had nearly 1 million visitors in June of 2021 (a 20% increase from 2019). Zion National Park is saddled with four-hour wait times for hikes, and at some national parks like Arches and Canyonlands, officials are having to turn visitors away due to overcrowding. Campgrounds are seeing an uptick as well, with reservations rising by 73% from 2019.
Unfortunately, this newfound enthusiasm for national parks has a dark side. Graffiti, negative encounters with wildlife – even death – have become issues as the crowds continue to surge.
Safety tips for national parks
- Don’t pick flowers, pile rocks, or tamper with the vegetation. You might feel that it’s harmless if, for example, you only pick one flower. However, thousands of people picking one flower each can have a seriously negative impact. It affects the food source for many animals, and can be devastating to pollinators.
- Stay a safe distance from animals. In 2020, a 72 year-old woman was gored by a bison after getting too close while attempting to take a photo. She approached the animal multiple times, venturing within 10 feet, and experts say that the bison likely felt threatened. Other animal attacks have been reported, most often on lone travelers who came too close.
- Travel in groups, make noise, and don’t try to feed animals. Staying in noisy groups allows animals to track and avoid your approach. Further, attempting to feed an unwilling animal can result in injury, while feeding a willing one will make the animal reliant on humans, harassing them for crumbs.
- Pack supplies and listen to your body. In 2020 a woman died while hiking, presumably from heat exhaustion. Be sure to take frequent rests, pack sunscreen, and stay hydrated, especially while hiking. Pack granola or protein bars, a lot of water, sunscreen, bug spray, and ensure that you have some method of reaching help. Be it a cellphone or a companion, make sure that you have back-up in case something goes wrong.
- Stay on trails and, when at high altitudes, behind railings and/or fences. In 2020, a woman fell into the Grand Canyon while attempting to take selfies. Though it’s tempting to take risks for an epic photos, always stay behind all safety railings, stick to the paths and mind the dangers around you.