National Park Service faces crowding now. Apathy to come in its second century?

The National Park Service handled a record number of visitors in 2015 and park crowding has achieved epic proportions at some of Utah’s marquee destinations.

But crowding can be reduced through smart planning and outreach that spreads use into less busy times and less visited places, according to director Jonathan Jarvis. Not so easily fixed, he said, is young adults’ apparent lack of interest in the nation’s natural, historic and cultural treasures that Jarvis’ agency oversees.

As the NPS approaches its second century this August, the Department of Interior will oversee a series of events, programs and initiatives to connect with the millennial generation, whose members range in age from roughly 18 to 35.

“The goal is not just a celebratory birthday cake, but focuses on what’s the next century of the National Park Service going to be about and how do we engage the next generation in taking care of the parks,” Jarvis said. He’s concerned that millennials, not as connected to the outdoors as their parents and grandparents, may be far less inclined to support a system that has been heralded as “America’s Best Idea.”

“If the park service doesn’t build a new constituency, our longer term future is at risk, to be blunt about it,” said Jarvis. “This particular industry also needs to build a new constituency.”

Aiding in this mission is the National Park Foundation, which has hired a Madison Avenue advertising firm to conduct research. The foundation is looking to survey millennials in 2017 and compare responses garnered in a 2011 survey. Racial minorities also remain less engaged with the parks, a trend the foundation seeks to reverse.

Yet lack of interest seems like a distant problem now, with visitation hitting a record 300 million — nearly equivalent to the United States population. Utah’s five national parks all beat records that were set the previous year.

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