The national parks are often considered to be one of America’s greatest achievements. Through a rich and sometimes tumultuous history, the national parks have been shaped from unwanted swaths of land into some of the most famous landscapes in the country. There are ultimately two conflicting goals of the national parks: provide enjoyment for the American people and protect the land. In recent years, increased popularity of the parks has made achieving these dual goals particularly difficult. Crowding in the parks leads to both ecological and social problems that threaten both goals of the national parks. Crowding is a multifaceted issue that must be explored from multiple perspectives.
Using Zion as a case study, the problems of crowding are explored and evaluated. First the history of the national parks is described to determine how the parks were created and popularized. After exploring the history of the parks, crowding in the national parks will be
discussed, including an overview of some of the significant social science literature exploring
crowding and its impact on visitor experience. This analysis will conclude with an examination
of visitor management strategies and an examination of the park-specific literature about the specific problems and decisions confronting managers at Zion National Park. A personal account of a visit to Zion during the peak season will provide a personal narrative about the meaning and purpose of the park experience.
The final section of this thesis will consider a range of opposing views on the philosophy of national parks and the park experience, centering around the ideas of Abbey, to address the deeper questions surrounding the goals of park management as we likely more toward an even more crowded park future. Ultimately the paper concludes that the parks has shifted irrevocably away from the ideals of Abbey, although his voice still provides inspiration to generations of park lovers. Additionally, while hard limits must eventually be set, in an era of increasing human influence, the park experience will need to be redefined to be more expansive and inclusive of all who wish to visit and enjoy.