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Congress proposes national park reservation systems amid overcrowding

Lawmakers on Wednesday suggested that national parks implement reservation systems and use shuttles to combat overcrowding that has led to long waits and increased littering at some of the nation's most popular parks. File Photo by Al Golub/GMUPI 
Lawmakers on Wednesday suggested that national parks implement reservation systems and use shuttles to combat overcrowding that has led to long waits and increased littering at some of the nation's most popular parks. File Photo by Al Golub/GMUPI  | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) -- Lawmakers on Wednesday called for national parks to limit guests and provide alternative parking options as the attractions face overcrowding due to Americans venturing outdoors after early pandemic closures.

Park superintendents and private sector groups testified before the Senate subcommittee on national parks to discuss the issue of overcrowding as some parks have seen their attendance nearly double.

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"The tension and the paradox we have is we want visitation to our national parks, but we don't want the visitation itself to impair the experience of the national parks or the park itself," said subcommittee Chairman Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.

King said Wednesday he believes visitors are "loving our parks to death" as national parks have seen an increase in visitors and cars leading to 4-hour wait times and increased littering in some cases.

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Yellowstone National Park saw June attendance rise from 573,205 in 2020 to 938,845 in 2021, while Yosemite saw an increase from 236,534 to 428,037 during the same periods, according to National Park Service data.

Many national parks shuttered or limited services beginning in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept throughout the nation and parks struggled to manage crowded trails, large gatherings and people walking close together.

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In May of this year, the National Park Service issued tips for potential parkgoers as it anticipated rising attendance numbers but warned that many parks and businesses in their surrounding communities continued to operate with reduced or limited services, schedules and staffing.

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King proposed parks follow in the footsteps of locations such as Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park and Montana's Glacier National Park and implement an online reservation system.

Kevin Schneider, superintendent of Maine's Acadia National Park, said his staff implemented a reservation system over the summer that reduced visitors to a more manageable and steady pace.

"Visitors understand that there's only 150 parking spots on Cadillac Mountain," he said. "We want people to have a really high quality experience and not everybody can be up there at the same time in their cars."

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To mitigate parking issues, King suggested that parks require visitors to park their cars miles away and provide a shuttle to bring them to the grounds.

"Free visitor shuttle and private partners could allow us to continue growing the number of people in the parks while limiting vehicle traffic.

King also suggested that encouraging parkgoers to visit "lesser-known jewels" such as Big Bend National Park in Texas, to alleviate the stress on the nation's most popular parks.

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A commercial airplane moves across the Manhattan midtown skyline to land at LaGuardia Airport at sunset in New York City on September 2, 2021. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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