'12 Arizona Natl. Park Visits Dropped 1.5%
While the National Park Service saw a slight increase in visitors across the country in 2012, its sites in Arizona recorded a third straight year of overall decline.
Fifteen of 21 National Park Service sites in Arizona saw decreases in visitors last year, while Grand Canyon National Park, with 4 million-plus visitors, was among those recording modest gains, azcentral.com reported.
In all, 9.97 million people visited national parks, monuments, historic sites and recreation areas in Arizona last year, a 1.5% decline from 2011. Nationally, the park service recorded 282 million visitors in 2012, up a little more than 1%.
Cheryl Cothran, director of the Arizona Hospitality Research and Resource Center at Northern Arizona University, said national parks are up against a younger generation that isn’t as interested in recreating outdoors.
“Many people have cited the obesity crisis as a reason that people aren’t getting out and doing things outdoors as much as they used to,” she said. “Kids just don’t show as much of an interest in playing outside anymore because they want to play video games inside.”
Visitors to park service sites in Arizona have declined by nearly 22% since 1993, a time that Cothran said was one of the state’s peak years for tourism.
“During the mid-’90s, visitation from Europe was high, and the Baby Boomers were in their prime travel years,” she said. “Since then, international visitation has been going down, and we’re getting fewer visitors from Europe because of economic problems and an aging population.”
The Grand Canyon drew 4.42 million visitors in 2012, an increase of 2.9%, and ranked as the 14th most-visited in the nation.
Other Arizona sites with increases were Petrified Forest National Park (664,857 visitors, up 8.3%) and Saguaro National Park (634,286 visitors, up 4%). Canyon de Chelly National Monument drew 828,523 visitors, virtually the same as 2011.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the second-most-popular Park Service site in Arizona, was down 1.7% with 6.3 million visitors.
Among other sites that saw declines was Montezuma Castle National Monument, with 455,305 visitors, down 20.1%. Wupatki National Monument had 201,365 visitors, down 6.8%; Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument had 177,793, down 4%; Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument had 161,743, down 23.5%.
However, Cothran said, those numbers can be misleading.
“The number of people actually recreating at some of these parks is different than the number of people driving through one,” she said. “But, in Arizona, there’s still a very strong draw for people to come recreate or visit places like the Grand Canyon.”
Cothran also said that, unlike states where national parks are near large metropolitan areas, Arizona’s national parks attract people from around the world. And while they’re in the area, tourists usually help the state’s economy by spending money at restaurants and stores, she said.
“People have to make a point of traveling long distance and spending a lot of money to get here,” Cothran said.
Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said the Grand Canyon alone will always draw attention.
“Between the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the simple number of parks in the state, Arizona ranks very high on people’s list of places to visit in the country to see a national park,” he said.