Numbers Suggest Dip in Montana’s Park Tourism

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Park visitors in Montana have declined from comparable periods in 2007.

National Park Service statistics for the year through the end of September show that recreational visitors to Yellowstone National Park dropped by just over 1 percent, to 2.86 million. The park largely is in Wyoming but has Montana gateways. Visitors at Glacier National Park, 1.93 million in 2007, fell by about 2.6 percent.

Summer visitors to the state parks fell by about 9 percent from the 1.85 million recorded last summer, said Chas Van Genderen, an administrator in the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“Gas prices definitely are changing the way people are recreating,” Van Genderen said.

Profiles of park visitation suggest people stayed closer to home. State parks near major population centers such as Billings, Great Falls and Helena saw increases, Van Genderen said, but isolated parks posted declines.

Rick Hoeninghausen, marketing and sales director for Yellowstone concessionaire Xanterra, said retail sales in the park this summer were 7 percent to 10 percent below figures for the same period in 2007.

“That was one area that was soft and never came back up,” he said. “We’re always talking about tipping points. That may be where the tipping point was. That may be where they decided to cut back.”

Yellowstone’s hotel rooms were full and other sources of revenue were strong, as well, Hoeninghausen said.

Betsy Baumgart, director of the Montana Promotions Division, said that at the end of August a study of Montana lodging sales found a 1 percent decline.

“That doesn’t seem like much, but we generally go up,” she said.

Joan Kronebusch of the Billings Chamber of Commerce said the number of tourists who stopped at the city’s Visitor Center has been comparable to last year’s number.

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