There was an interesting article this week in the New York Times about overcrowding at National Parks. Our family visited Zion National Park this summer (where almost all of the photos are from in this article) and I can certainly agree that parks like Zion are experiencing crushing numbers of visitors. Hiking Angel’s Landing was like being stuck in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic.
I pulled the data from the National Park Service and was surprised to see that park visits per capita actually peaked in 1986. Also very interestingly (since we hiked the Narrows with a permit) was that backcountry hiking on a per-capita basis continues to fall. The massive increase in park visits between the end of World War II and the 1970’s oil crisis was driven by an equally massive increase in global per-capita oil production. As driving became cheaper, more people drove to national parks.
When you look at the year-over-year change in national park visits per capita and compare it against the year-over-year change in real oil prices, you see that in years when the oil price falls, more people visits parks and vice versa. Cheap oil = cheap vacations. Peak oil = peak vacations?