Visits up at Crater Lake

Visitation was up dramatically at national parks in 2014, including Crater Lake National Park and Lava Beds National Monument.

Unofficial figures show a record 294 million people visited National Park Service sites in 2014, a 20 million increase over 2013.

Crater Lake Superintendent Craig Ackerman said visitation climbed from 523,027 to 619,469 last year, although figures posted by the National Park Traveler had the number of 2014 visitors at 684,280.

At Lava Beds, visitation spiked from 105,395 in 2013 to 137,974 last year. Visitation at the various sites that make up the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes areas in Alaska and Hawaii, was among the few parks with a decrease, but the Tule Lake Unit, which includes sites near Tulelake and Newell, saw an increase from 3,500 to 5,000.

At Crater Lake, Ackerman believes a light snow year combined with Travel Oregon’s successful Seven Wonders of Oregon campaign helped lure visitors.

“Park roads and facilities opened a month early so there were trails to hike, waterfalls to visit, campgrounds to camp in,” he said of factors that helped encourage early and late season tourism.

He said visitation was also well above usual figures in July and August, noting, “You have to attribute that to Travel Oregon’s Seven Wonders promotion,” which is regarded as the state’s most successful promotion effort. Crater Lake topped the list of seven wonders.

Ackerman said ongoing efforts by Jim Chadderdon with Discover Klamath and Carolyn Hill with the Southern Oregon Visitors Association were also significant.

The state and Crater Lake are also expected to benefit from attention generated by the film, “Wild,” based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. Although Crater Lake is shown only briefly in the film, interest in the park has increased.

Mike Reynolds, superintendent for both Lava Beds National Monument and the Tule Lake Unit, was pleased with increased visitation at the two parks, especially because the Tule Lake Unit remains essentially closed to the public.

“We expect significant increases once the general management plan is completed and the park is fully open to the public,” Reynolds said of the Tule Lake Unit.

He also is pleased with the “modest increase” at Lava Beds and noted the July 4 weekend was “one of the busiest in park history. We are very excited that visitors are coming to enjoy Lava Beds, as we have seen increases in very slow off seasons, as well with capacity for more. Remember, the weather in the caves is always good.”

Other factors in the regional and nationwide increases include the absence of a government shutdown, lower gas costs, favorable weather and an improving economy. All National Park Service units, including Crater Lake and Lava Beds, were closed during portions of October 2013, when Congress failed to act on government funding.

Parks showing major gains in 2014 included: Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, up more than 1 million to 13.9 million; Acadia National Park in Maine, up 304,000 to 2.55 million; Arches National Park in Utah, up nearly 202,000 to 1.3 million; Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, up 308,000 to 1.1 million; the Washington Monument, which was closed in 2013 because of structural problems, 391,490 visitors; and the Statue of Liberty National Monument, up 2.1 million to 3.97 million.