Despite the economic downturn, more American and foreign tourists visited U.S. national parks last year, according to new figures released by the Department of the Interior.
More than 285 million people visited national parks and other units of the National Park System during 2009, an increase of 3.9 percent from the prior year. It was the fifth busiest year for the nation's parks.
"People both here and abroad know that our national parks are America's best idea, even during an economic downturn," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. "Our national parks are treasures that tell the story of our country and celebrate its beauty and culture, and they provide vacation bargains for families living on a tight budget. They offer priceless opportunities to inspire adults and children alike with our wonderful natural, cultural and historic heritage."
Possible reasons for the increased attendance include three weekends last summer when the Park Service waived entrance fees, the visits by President Obama and his family to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, the publicity generated by Ken Burns' documentary on the history of the national parks, a decline in gasoline prices and the continued strong exchange rate the euro enjoys against the dollar.
Among some of the most visited national parks during 2009 were Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Olympic National Park.