National Park Visits vs Oil Price

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.

Visits Per Capita Peaked in 1986. Backcountry hiking per capita continues to fall.

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?

National Park visits are correlated to changes in the real oil price. Data 1980-2016.

Will Martin is an energy analyst and expert on peak oil and alternative currencies. He is an MBA graduate of Cornell University, where he was a Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow and concentrated on studying sustainability in business through the school’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise. Prior to his MBA, Will worked in the energy industry, living in Singapore, Houston and Dubai. Will is a recipient of the 2012 “Pioneer Award” from the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO-USA). He currently works as a carbon trading commercial adviser in the San Francisco Bay Area. Will is a bitcoin enthusiast and in 2014 published the book “Anonymous Cryptocurrencies,” which became a #1 best seller in 3 Amazon categories and was the first book to be sold on a decentralized marketplace.

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