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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.

Updated 10 mins ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Chargés d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and non-essential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten embassy's ability to assist Americans.

Perfect storm brewing for extreme politicians

Data: Axios research; Table: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Redistricting and a flood of departing incumbents are paving the way for more extreme candidates in this year's midterm elections.

Driving the news: At least 19 House districts in 12 states are primed to attract such candidates — hard partisans running in strongly partisan districts — according to an Axios analysis of districts as measured by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index (PVI).

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