Zion National Park sees record 4.5 million visitors in 2017 but no word on fee increases for 2018
Still no word on fee increases for 2018
The National Park Service has released Zion National Park’s visitation numbers for 2017. The park saw a record 4.5 million visitors over the course of the year. However, rather than actual headcounts, the totals are simply the best estimates the NPS can put together.
“It’s very difficult to accurately count,” said John B. Marciano, public information officer for Zion National Park.
The estimates are calculated combining multiple pieces of data from the east, south, and Kolob entrances to Zion National Park using formulas and multipliers. The multipliers are different for each entrance as well as for different times of the year. The east entrance uses a multiplier of 2.2 per passenger vehicle for September–February and May and a multiplier of 2.8 for March, April, and June–August, according to data available on the National Park Service website.
“We’ve been trying to update and modernize the counting process,” said Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh.
Some have questioned the methodology and systems of counting visitors to Zion National Park and changes being made to those systems.
“Periodically, the park service updates the numbers per car,” Bradybaugh said. “Commercial bus accounting did change at the beginning of 2016. From the 2012–2015 period, buses were counted the same as passenger vehicles. In the past, we have counted buses, but not in a disciplined way. The intent is to get actual counts on buses.”
“Currently a head count is taken as the cash registers require us to put the number of passengers on the bus,” said concessions management specialist Doug Dawson, who has taken care of calculating Zion National Park’s numbers for the last couple of years. However, the park still uses averages to calculate the overall monthly and yearly totals.
“On the east side, we use a multiplier of 32 people per bus year-round,” Dawson said. “At the south entrance, it’s 20 people per bus from November through March and 28 from April to October.” To get those averages, the park did a random sampling from August 2016 to August 2017.
Some of the reported increases in visitation since 2015 do seem to reflect this updated counting of the buses. In 2016, the park reported the largest increase in history, jumping from 3.66 million in 2015 to 4.3 million in 2016. Through calculations, some of that increase can be attributed to the revised and arguably more accurate accounting for visitors coming in on buses.
“The accounting of the buses in 2016 and 2017 did have a big impact on the numbers,” Dawson said.
According to data sent to The Independent, Zion National Park reported a total of 5,884 buses counted in 2016. Using the current multipliers, that adds up to approximately 179,000 people who were counted as coming in on buses in 2016. If a similar number of buses entered in 2015 but were counted as passenger vehicles, about 165,000 of the 640,000 increase from 2015 to 2016 — or around 25 percent — could be attributed simply to the revised and likely more accurate accounting of visitors entering on buses.
The total number of visitors is increasingly significant as Zion National Park is in the midst of a years-long Visitor Use Plan, expected to be completed late this year. The comment period for the plan closed in August 2017.
“We are analyzing comments and compiling data from studies going back to 2000, including new studies done in the last couple of years,” Bradybaugh said. “We are also working with the town of Springdale; the three county commissions of Washington, Iron, and Kane Counties; the Utah office of tourism; and the Bureau of Land Management.”
Additionally, the new federal administration announced proposed fee increases at 17 national parks in October of last year. The comment period was extended into December; however, the parks have not yet been notified if those increases will go into effect.
“We have not heard a peep yet on proposed increases for the five months in 2018,” Bradybaugh said. “Since it had been proposed that the fee increase would start this spring, the parks are eagerly awaiting notification. We have to do a lot of work to prepare for any change. It’s frustrating.”