For decades America’s national parks have been popular destinations for travelers of all ages and attendance numbers have been at near record highs even in recent years. But the National Park Service has begun to see a disturbing shift in the demographic of its visitors over the past decade or so, as young adults appear to have fled the parks en masse.
According to a recent story from MSNBC, the average age of visitors to the national parks has risen steadily since 1996. Part of that increase is due to a continued interested in the parks by aging baby boomers, but the twenty-something crowd, who were once a mainstay in the parks, seem to have nearly disappeared. According to the story, young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 now make up just 11 percent of the visitors to Yosemite and a stunning six percent at Yellowstone.
Exactly why young people are no longer visiting the national parks is a bit of a mystery, but if the trend continues it could be a major problem for the Park Service down the line. Finding funding for the parks in these challenging economic times is already a tough task, but if attendance falls dramatically in the future it could prove to be herculean.In an attempt to reverse the trend, the National Parks Conservation Association has launched an initiative to connect people with the parks. The goal is to deliver a personal connection with these iconic landscapes and inspire more people to visit. This ambitious project hopes to not only get young people into the parks, but diverse ethnic groups as well. Only time will tell if the plan will be successful.
As a big fan of the national parks, these statistics are very disheartening. The parks represent some of the most breathtaking landscapes on the planet and it is a shame that more young people aren’t showing an interest in experiencing them. Additionally, the parks are great places to hike, camp, climb or do just about anything else outdoors. My fear is that as many young adults turn away from those activities they are also turning away from the parks themselves. Hopefully this trend won’t continue into the future and America’s wild places will continue to receive the support they deserve.