Smokey the Bear may feel lonely.
The recent recession has led to lower visitation at national parks, according to a study done between the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Catholic University of Korea.
The study, led by University professors Neelam Poudyal and Michael Tarrant, found visitors of state parks were declining due to former visitors trying to spend less on nonessential items like vacations. Attendance at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park fell from 9,463,538 visitors in 2010 to 9,008,830 in 2011, according to the National Parks Service.
“We basically look at how the recession can impact national park visitation, and the idea is to see whether or not the recession has anything to do with the demand for parks. So, we’re interested in establishing some relationship,” Poudyal, an assistant professor in natural resource recreation and tourism, said.
The practical application of the study is to allow parks to prepare for a lower number of visitors when the economy weakens. According to its website, the National Park System comprises 398 areas covering more than 84 million acres. By planning ahead, Poudyal hopes the parks can avoid some of the fallout from the recession.
“They can read our article, they can look at our results and see if the unemployment rate is predicted to increase by 3 percent in the next two years, how that would translate to a decline in visitation,” Poudyal said. “If they are expecting less visitation this year, then they can hire less workers and use the resources to talk [to] tourists.”
The team’s research found low attendance at parks is not limited to the recent economic downturn.
“There were recessions several times in U.S. history before the current one, and the long-term data shows that there is a strong negative relationship,” Poudyal said. “That means when the country goes into a recession or some kind of economic downturn, the impact goes to national park visitation.”
Some University students interviewed feel the pressure of a bad economy on their trips to parks.
“I haven’t been to a national park in years,” Jonathan Street, a fourth-year student from Snellville, said. “If I’m saving up for a vacation, it makes more sense to take a big vacation, to the beach or something, than taking small trips to parks.”
Though some students have followed the trend, other students say the weak economy has encouraged their trips to national parks. Trey Burger, who recently spent a weekend hiking the Appalachian Trail, said it makes more economic sense to do outdoor activities.
“Obviously, it’d be nice to take a cruise or something, but that means you have to fly or drive to there, buy gas, buy food, buy souvenirs and most students can’t afford that,” said Burger, a natural resources, recreation and tourism major. “It’s just cheaper to drive to the woods and hike or camp.”