America’s National Parks saw record-breaking visitation in 2014, part of an upward trend that even found its way to one of the system’s quietest corners: Nevada’s own Great Basin National Park.
The park 350 miles northeast of Las Vegas usually ranks among the least visited national parks in the lower 48 states, and last year was no different. But Great Basin did manage to top 100,000 visitors for the first time ever.
The 77,000 acre park near the Nevada-Utah line has seen a gradual rise in visitation since 2008, but last year it shot up roughly 15 percent, to 107,526 visitors. The previous record was 94,850 in 2012.
The National Park system as a whole counted 292.8 million visits in 2014, the highest mark in its 99-year history, according to figures announced Thursday.
The previous visitation record was set in 1987, the year after Great Basin was founded, when parks saw just over 287.2 million visits.
“As we look ahead to our centennial in 2016, I am looking forward to announcing a new record-breaking number of visitors coming to experience national parks next year and beyond,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in a written statement on the visitation numbers for 2014.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area didn’t set any records last year, but the park did see enough of an increase in visitors to hold on to its spot as the sixth busiest park site in the nation.
The 1.5 million-acre recreation area east of Las Vegas logged 6.9 million recreation visits in 2014, a total that excludes traffic through the park on U.S. Highway 93 and visits to Hoover Dam and the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, just outside the park boundary.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco ranked as the nation’s busiest park with 15 million visitors last year. The only other park sites with more visitors than Lake Mead last year were Blue Ridge Parkway (13.9 million), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (10 million), George Washington Memorial Parkway (7.4 million) and the Lincoln Memorial (7.1 million).
Including the 2014 figures, National Park Service sites have seen more than 13.2 billion visits since record-keeping began in 1916. Nearly 410 million people have visited Lake Mead National Recreation Area since 1937. Just over 3.5 million people have visited Great Basin National Park since 1934, when the site was designated as Lehman Caves National Monument.
The news comes as the Park Service prepares to raise fees at many of its more than 400 sites nationwide. Lake Mead plans to double its entrance fee to $20 per vehicle — and increase most other charges — on Jan. 1, pending the outcome of a public comment process now underway.
Contact Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.