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Yellowstone releases report on visitor use

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A peer-reviewed report summarizing the results of Yellowstone’s 2018 Visitor Use Study was recently released online.

The National Park Service contracted Otak Inc., RRC Associates and The University of Montana Institute for Tourism Recreation Research to conduct the study to help better understand how visitors experience the park in real time, across the summer season, and across different parts of the park. More than 4,000 people responded to the surveys, one of the largest in the history of the National Park Service.  

Yellowstone visitation has substantially increased over the past 10 years, ranging from 3.2 million in 2009 to 4.2 in 2016, and 4.1 million in 2018. The survey results provide a variety of park-wide and site-specific data that the park plans to use to make decisions in upcoming years.

Survey results indicate that 85 percent of respondents thought their experience in the park was good or excellent, with the top three reasons for visiting being scenery, wildlife and thermal features. Approximately 67 percent of the visitors participating in the survey were first-time visitors to the park. Overall, 92 percent waited less than 10 minutes to enter the park and 86 percent waited less than 10 minutes to find parking.

“This study gives us very actionable information on how we can better manage and plan for increasing visitation in Yellowstone,” said Superintendent Cameron Sholly. “I largely credit the National Park Service team and our partners for the high visitor satisfaction levels. That said, there is no question that increasing visitation levels are having higher impacts on resources, our staff and infrastructure, and our gateway communities.”

While the 2016 Visitor Use Study surveyed people who visited in early August after their departure from the park, the 2018 Visitor Use Study used in-person interviews and GPS-based tablets to survey visitors in real time as they traveled through the park. It was conducted during one week of each month from May through September 2018.

Yellowstone is focused to a great extent on constructing a visitor use strategy that understands and responds to increased visitation in the following key areas: 1) impacts on resource conditions; 2) impacts on staffing, operations and infrastructure; 3) impacts on visitor service levels; and 4) impacts on gateway communities and partners.

The park has and will continue to use a range of data, including this survey, to develop actions that improve performance in these four key areas.

Visit to view the 2018 Visitor Use Survey results.

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