I started this Blog with a piece about how we are thinking and talking about the park differently, how we are creating new opportunities for visitors to enjoy the park and trying to be more welcoming. One way to measure whether we are having an effect is to review the numbers of visitors who experience the park. In 2014, Petrified Forest visitation grew by nearly 30% to 836,919 visitors.
While we will take some credit for this growth based on the new opportunities and attitude we are offering, it is also true that some of the growth can be attributed to low fuel prices, an improving economy, and comparison to the year before, which included the government shutdown. In fact, had the shutdown not occurred, visitation in 2013 would likely have been in the area of 700,000 visitors and 2014 would mark the third year in a row of visitation growth.
Digging a little deeper, October and December of last year were records for those months. The single year increase of 29.8% was the largest since 1956. For the year, the total was the largest since 1995.
We think this one-year result is important—and it’s only important to us if there is a component of it that is responding to our actions. Low gas prices and an improving economy are nice but beyond our control. If we can attribute a portion of the growth to our actions, it means that we have the chance to make a national park experience at Petrified Forest relevant to more people. If we are relevant to more people, we validate what we do. If we are relevant to more people, we help our local communities who are more eager, in turn, to help us. If we are relevant to more people, we gain stature in the public eye and the public willingness to further protect the park grows. If we are relevant to more people, we improve our chances of perpetuating the park’s protection through our political system.
Visitation numbers are not the only feedback mechanism we have but it is the easiest to track. We are also keeping an eye on press reports, comments we get directly from visitors, comments visitors make on sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, and our own social media accounts. We are getting positive feedback in all areas. Our annual summer survey of 400 park visitors in 2014 to assess how visitors feel about the facilities and services we offer was our best in recent memory, exceeding the 8 year average in every category. We are excited to be getting this positive feedback and will continue to do our best to provide a good national park experience—not to grow the numbers but to grow our relevance to the American public.