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Crowds overwhelm national parks, deferred maintenance shows incompetence

We went to Zion National Park on a Tuesday a few weeks ago. We won’t be going back.

The problem wasn’t the park itself—it was magnificent—nor was there trouble with the detail-level operations. The crowds were the problem, the numbers of people.

Zion had 4.5 million visits during 2017, according to a U. S. Park Service news release. That puts Zion at third for park visits. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park led with 11.4 million, followed by the Grand Canyon at 6.3 million.

Zion is handy, in southwest Utah, 165 miles from Las Vegas. The Zion problem is that nearly all those visitors go into a small space—the Virgin River Canyon.

In presenting numbers, the Park Service does something amazing. Figures for deferred maintenance are listed along with visitation figures. The listing looks like a passive-aggressive way to inspire repair money. Such things are usually avoided.

The deferral for Zion is $65.3 million. Almost trivial compared to $215.4 million for Great Smoky and $329.4 million at the Grand Canyon. I already had the general sense that the park system was a mess.