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Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

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Americans love their public lands. They have turned to them to connect with their families, to maintain an active lifestyle, and to escape 24-hour news cycles that seem to bring nothing but bad news. The recreational use that our public lands receive is not a new trend however. Over the past 10-years, visitation to all types National Park Service units (e.g., parks, monuments, historic sites, etc.) has increased by 16%, with national parks alone seeing a 28% increase in visitation. Visitation to many national parks reaches record levels every year. At the same time, the ecosystems of our parks and public lands are changing notably. National parks as a whole are warming at twice the rate as the rest of the country. As a result, we are losing some of the outstanding resources our parks and public lands were established to protect in the first place. Many national forests are struggling to maintain trails and campgrounds under the weight of more intense and diverse use. Visitation to national forests is up 5% over the past ten years as well. More use of our forests has been associated with the increased occurrence of human-caused wildfire. The challenges of visitation are being seen in our state park systems as well. Visitation to state parks is up nearly 11% across the country since 2009. Simultaneously, operating budgets have declined by over 21%. Recent research has estimated that we will need $42 billion dollars in additional appropriations and revenues to state park systems to meet projected demand. These are complex resource management challenges that will require focused and coordinated policy efforts to address. The two panel discussions that were part of this webinar bring together representatives of the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Park Directors, and leading academic institutions to identify policy and management solutions to keeping America’s parks and public lands from being loved to death.

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