Grand Teton National Park’s 2016 visitation set a record for the third consecutive year. The park received over 4.8 million visits, a 3.8 percent increase from the previous record of 4.6 million visits in 2015. The most significant increases came in the months of May, June, and November when total visitation increased 20, 11, and 10 percent, respectively.
The record visitation is part of a longer term upward trend which has seen park visitation increase 23 percent over the past four years. The record is also part of a nationwide trend which has brought record numbers to parks across the country.
Park managers believe a number of factors contribute to the rising visitation levels including gas prices, overall economic growth, interest generated by the National Park Service Centennial, trends in the tourism industry, and marketing promotions including the Find Your Park campaign. The record year came despite the Berry Fire, the largest wildland fire in park history, which closed portions of U.S. Highway 89/191/287 in the park for 11 days in August and September.
Park managers implemented measures in 2016 to mitigate the impacts of increased visitation on park resources and the visitors’ experience. The most visible was the new String Lake Volunteer Team, which limited human-wildlife conflicts and provided an on-the-ground presence in the increasingly popular String Lake shoreline area. In 2017, park managers will begin implementation of the Moose-Wilson Corridor Comprehensive Management Plan, which will ultimately manage the number of visitors in the area at any one time. Also this summer, social scientists and ecologists will begin a study designed to better understand how visitors use the String Lake and Leigh Lake areas, when they visit, their preferences, and the impacts of their visitation.
Visitation numbers are derived from traffic counter data. The numbers recorded by these counters are run through an algorithm to determine an estimated visitation number. This process has gone largely unchanged since 1992, with no changes made since 2005. The consistent methodology allows park managers to compare visitation levels from year to year. An 18 percent decline in December visits when compared to 2015 is likely explained by extreme cold temperatures which deterred visitors and traffic counters which malfunctioned on a few days due to the frigid temperatures.