Since the mid-1980s, roughly 275 million visitors have flocked to America's national parks each year, eager to breathe fresh air and experience the country's most treasured landscapes, from Death Valley's parched lowlands to Maine's rugged coast. Despite the relative consistency in park visitation, park rangers have noticed an important change in the people who patronize the parks. Across the board, they are getting older.
The trend, which was discovered by a University of Idaho analysis of National Park Service attendance figures, can be seen in anecdotal evidence from around the Park Service. In Rocky Mountain National Park, for example, the average visitor is 46 (up from late-20s to early-30s). At Yosemite, only 11% of visitors are in their 20s. That number is down at 6% in Yellowstone. By contrast, almost a third of visitors to Death Valley National Park were in their 20s back in 1996.
The trend is not an immediate problem, but one that could mean less future support for national parks. Opinions on the disconnect range from technology addiction to economic challenges and general disinterest.