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Yellowstone visitor survey finds…it’s crowded!

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NPR / Neal Herbert

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (KIFI/KIDK) - Most visitors say their recent trip to Yellowstone National Park was good or excellent.  That was one of the findings from a survey of more than 4,000 people who visited the park in 2018. The study was conducted by Otak Inc., RRC Associates and the University of Montana Institute for Tourism Recreation Research.

The park released a peer-reviewed report of Yellowstone's 2018 Visitor Use Study Thursday. Over 4,000 people were surveyed, one of the largest returns in the history of the park service. It was conducted during one week of each month from May to September, 2018.

Visitation has increased significantly over the past 10 years, ranging from 3.2 million in 2009 to 4.1 million in 2018. The survey indicates 85% of those interviewed thought their experience was good or excellent.  Most said their main reason for visiting were the scenery, wildlife, and thermal features. 

Most first-time visitors could deal with the traffic, but that patience wore thin for return visitors or people spending several days there. Over half of those visitors think there were too many people. 

Researchers summarized key findings from the study:

  • Visitors to Yellowstone almost always rated their trip good to excellent. 
  • Respondents were more likely to experience a greater sense of crowding, traffic congestion, and parking availability at Midway Geyser Basin and Fairy Falls.
  • Of the more popular attraction sites in the park, respondents rated Old Faithful and Canyon Village the least problematic, likely due to sufficient infrastructure to support a high volume of visitors.
  • Visitor experience and frustration ratings appear to have little to no significant correlation with GPS-based average speeds across road segments in the park. Respondents are generally not frustrated, have high experience ratings, and do not perceive major problems on roadways.
  • First-time visitors were less critical of issues at specific sites compared to repeat visitors.
  • The more days respondents spent in the park on their trip, the more likely they were to provide less favorable evaluations of visitor behavior. 

Yellowstone officials said they have a number of projects in the works intended to address many of those visitor concerns.  

Those include an evaluation into the feasibility of shuttle systems between Old Faithful, West Yellowstone, and Canyon Village into various local attractions.  

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