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National park visitation totals in 2009 just short of record

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National park visitation totals in 2009 just short of record[/h1]
Ten million more people visited national parks last year than in 2008, but the numbers fell short of the all-time record for park visitation set in 1987.
More than 285 million people visited national parks and other units of the National Park Service during 2009, up from nearly 275 million in 2008, according to new statistics from the agency.
The record for visitation to national parks was set in 1987 at 287.2 million.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was the most-visited unit of the park system, with nearly 16 million visitors. (And it is utterly uncrowded year-round)
Shenandoah National Park drew 1.1 million visitors in 2009, up 4.1 percent over 2008, said park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog.
“Much like other national parks, we had seen a declining trend up until a few years ago, when we pretty much stabilized,” she said.
The weather during just one weekend in October when the park averages 250,000 visitors, including many leaf peepers, can have a major affect on a season’s attendance total, she said.
Park authorities haven’t conducted any surveys of Shenandoah visitors to determine the effect of the economy on visits, but in the last two years, campground use has been up and lodge use has been down, she said.
Authorities hope to open the stretch of Skyline Drive north of U.S. 33 sometime in early March, she said. From there they’ll move north, and then double back to clear the stretch from U.S. 250 north to 33.
Monika Mayr, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s deputy superintendent, said that the Virginia section of the road saw comparatively few downed trees and comparatively more snow than other road sections this year. Some parts of the road remain closed, while others are open, she said.
Daniel Myrtle, the district facility manager in charge of the section of road from Roanoke north, said most of the road in the Central Virginia area is closed.
He said he hopes to have the road open soon, despite 14 to 16 inches of snow still on the road, with drifts of 3 to 4 feet.
“If we could get two or three days of weather that it doesn’t get to freezing at night, we should be open by the first or second week in March,” he said.
The parkway doesn’t usually clear snow but has been doing its best to use the equipment it has, Myrtle said.
For the national park system, the increase in visitation in 2009 was a triumph in a year when many sectors of the travel industry suffered a downturn because of the weak economy.
Factors that may have contributed to the increase, according to the park service, include three weekends last summer when park entrance fees were waived; visits by President Barack Obama and his family to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon; publicity from Ken Burns’ televised series about the national parks; lower gas prices; and the strong value of the euro against the dollar, which encourages European tourism to the U.S.
Article from here
This is great news, meaning more ROAD TRIPS!
 
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