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Expand chart
Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

By the numbers: The chart above shows how the most popular national parks enjoyed millions of more visitors in 2021 relative to last year, in part thanks to the relaxing of coronavirus restrictions.

Driving the news: Members of Congress are hoping to draw more attention to the issue by hosting a public hearing on Wednesday.

  • Park superintendents and private sector groups will testify before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.
  • The panel's chairman, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), said the purpose is to review the impact of the overcrowding on parks and park resources, and to consider strategic approaches to visitor-use management.
  • Many parks are now requiring visitors to reserve their spots online and trying to strategize how to spread crowds to avoid over-congestion in hotspots.

What he's saying: "We're not looking for a snapshot of July 2021," King said. "We're trying to think 10 years ahead. If current trends continue in terms of increased visitation, what does that imply?"

  • "Please help, we are drowning in tourists here," said Dick Broom, a reporter for the Mount Desert Islander, during a call with reporters.
  • Broom has seen the dangers of overcrowding at national parks firsthand, living on the island intertwined with Acadia National Park — one of the most popular parks in the U.S.
  • When Broom asked if King thinks the parks are in "danger of being loved to death," the senator labeled the characterization "appropriate."

Go deeper

Sep 19, 2021 - Science

California wildfire has, so far, missed group of giant sequoias

A Sequoia tree wrapped in fire-resistant foil as the KNP Complex Fire reached Sequoia National Park. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

The KNP Complex Fire, which reached the western edge of Sequoia National Park Saturday night, has so far spared a group of giant sequoias, local authorities said on Sunday.

Why it matters: The forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including one that is considered the largest tree on Earth by volume. The giant trees are considered "national treasures," and protective measures, such as wrapping portions of the trees in fire-resistant foil, are in place to curb damage.

Stock buybacks boom as corporate cash piles grow

The Delta variant is keeping more companies cautious about how to invest the mountains of cash they have at their disposal. That hesitancy has led, in part, to corporate spending on stock buybacks outpacing capital expenditures this year. 

Why it matters: Companies hoarded cash and raised prices over the past year — leaving them with a lot of money and decisions about what to do with it.

2 hours ago - Health

Health policies at stake in Democrats' infrastructure bet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Democrats are at a pivotal moment in their quest to expand health care coverage, slash the cost of prescription drugs and create a social structure that prioritizes people's health.

Driving the news: Democrats have a clear list of health care priorities they'll be fighting for this week. Among them is a measure to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits.

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