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National parks: Some winning, some lagging

August 14, 2009 |  4:00 am

Arches National Park has never gotten this kind of attention. The Utah destination, known for its colorful sandstone formations, reported a record number of visitors in 2008. Yellowstone National Park, Klondike Gold Rush National Park in Seattle and the Bay Area's Point Reyes National Seashore have seen similar hikes over the last few years.

"There's parks all over the country that are seeing some of their highest visitation in years," said Paul Henderson, public information officer at Arches National Park. Though there has been no official study of the increase, Henderson said Arches seems to be drawing in more locals than usual.

"Arches is within four or five hours of several million people," he said. "I think folks are taking shorter trips, they're taking a lot more trips closer to home."

Other parks haven't been so lucky. Dinosaur National Monument in Utah is among those lagging. It has seen a steady decline in membership since 2005. Sami Jensen, a seasonal worker at the monument, attributes the drop to the closure of the monument's popular dinosaur fossil exhibit, which was shut in 2006 when it began sinking into the clay beneath it.

"I think that once that opens again in 2011, it's definitely going to pick back up," Jensen said.

Last week, parking and camping fees at California state parks increased. Meanwhile, climate change is threatening all parks by altering habitats for animals, such as the yellow-legged frog and leading to tree loss in Yosemite.

Across the entire national park system, visitation has fluctuated between about 273 million and 277 million over the past five years, with 2008 numbers about equal to those from 1992. Statistics can be found on the National Park Service website.

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: Visitors hike around the North Window in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, which has seen an increase in local visitors recently. Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times