Managing Crowds of U.S. Public Lands for Enjoyment
Category Nature Friday - July 7 2023, 00:06 UTC - 7 months ago The United States federal government owns more than 640 million acres of public land. Many people seek these lands for recreation, rather than congested National parks. These gateway communities close to popular public lands must face the challenge of managing crowds for public enjoyment, whilst also providing economic relief.
Friday - July 7 2023, 00:06 UTC - 7 months ago
The United States federal government owns more than 640 million acres of public land. Many people seek these lands for recreation, rather than congested National parks. These gateway communities close to popular public lands must face the challenge of managing crowds for public enjoyment, whilst also providing economic relief.
Outdoor recreation is on track for another record-setting year. In 2022, U.S. national parks logged more than 300 million visits – and that means a lot more people on roads and trails.
While research shows that spending time outside is good for physical and mental health, long lines and gridlocked roads can make the experience a lot less fun. Crowding also makes it harder for park staff to protect wildlife and fragile lands and respond to emergencies. To manage the crowds, some parks are experimenting with timed-entry vehicle reservation systems and permits for popular trails.
For all of their popularity, national parks are just one subset of U.S. public lands. Across the nation, the federal government owns more than 640 million acres (2.6 million square kilometers) of land. Depending on each site’s mission, its uses may include logging, livestock grazing, mining, oil and gas production, wildlife habitat or recreation – often, several of these at once. In contrast, national parks exist solely to protect some of the most important places for public enjoyment.
In my work as a historian and researcher, I’ve explored the history of public land management and the role of national parks in shaping landscapes across the Americas. Many public lands are prime recreational territory and are also becoming increasingly crowded. Finding solutions requires visitors, gateway communities, state agencies and the outdoor industry to collaborate.
Alternatives to national parks .
The U.S. government is our nation’s largest land manager by far. Federal property makes up 28% of surface land area across the 50 states. In Western states like Nevada, the federal footprint can be as large as 80% of the land. That’s largely because much of this land is arid, and lack of water makes farming difficult. Other areas that are mountainous or forested were not initially viewed as valuable when they came under U.S. ownership – but values have changed.
Public lands are more diverse than national parks. Some are scenic; others are just open space. They include all kinds of ecosystems, from forests to grasslands, coastlines, red rock canyons, deserts and ranges covered with sagebrush. They also include battlefields, rivers, trails and monuments. Many are remote, but others are near or within major metropolitan areas.
Many people who love hiking, fishing, backpacking or other outdoor activities know that national parks are crowded, and they often seek other places to enjoy nature, including public lands. That trend intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns and social distancing protocols motivated people to get outside wherever they could.
The rise of remote work has also fueled a population shift toward smaller Western towns with access to open space and good internet access for videoconferencing. Popular remote work bases like Durango, Colorado, and Bend, Oregon, have become known as "Zoom towns" – a fresh take on the old boomtowns that brought people west in the 19th century.
With these new populations, gateway communities close to popular public lands face critical decisions. Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic engine: In 2017, it supported nearly 200,00 jobs and $7.6 billion in wages in Nevada alone.