Nature’s Capacity Crisis: The Overcrowding of America’s Outdoor Spaces



American outdoor recreation is flourishing like never before, with national parks bustling and the industry booming. This picture of a nation deeply connected with its natural heritage seems ideal, but it conceals a more complex and troubling reality.

There is a paradox  in American outdoor recreation, where its booming popularity  leads to unintended consequences, challenging our perceptions and forcing a rethink of our relationship with the great outdoors.

Booming Visits & Economic Growth

In 2022, visitor spending in communities near national parks resulted in a record high of $50.3 billion, benefiting the nation’s economy and supporting 378,400 jobs. 

Overcrowding & Environmental Strain

The popularity of America’s national parks, such as Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains, has led to overcrowding, straining the environment and infrastructure.

The Social Media Effect

Social media platforms have significantly influenced how natural sites are perceived and visited. It can both positively and negatively affect outdoor recreation participation. 

Access vs. Conservation

The surge in outdoor recreation has sparked a crucial debate on balancing open access with the need for conservation. This dilemma is exemplified by Baxter State Park, Maine, with its strict regulations, including a cap on Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.

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