Who Visits National Parks? The Effect of Changing Local Demographics on National Park Visitorship
During a two-decade general decline in visits to U.S. national parks during the 1990s and 2000s, annual visits to one-third of national parks actually increased. Previous research shows that park attendance varies by race, ethnicity, age, income, and education. This paper examines whether shifting demographics in the regions surrounding each national park explain historical fluctuations in visits. A linear fixed-effects model is used to estimate whether changes to these demographic indicators in the 100 miles surrounding national parks impacted visitation. The study found that local demographics had a statistically significant effect on park visitation and explained nearly half of year-to-year fluctuations in visits within each park. The effect of a change in local population on park visits was far smaller for African-American and Hispanic populations than white populations, suggesting that the National Parks System will face further challenges as the U.S. continues to become more diverse.