Grand Teton Visitation Eclipses 2022 Numbers 

Visitor survey seeks input to improve user experience, prepare for the park’s next 100 years

Though the number of visitors in 2023 did not reach the all-time high marked by the 2021 season, an increasing number of visitors to the area puts pressure on both natural resources and park infrastructure. (Courtesy photo from the National Park Service)

Special to the Wyoming Truth

By Melissa Thomasma

Grand Teton National Park visitation increased by an average of 17% during peak summer months in 2023 compared to that of last year.

A total of 3.5 million visitors entered the park between January 1 and August 31, representing a 13% year-over-year increase, according to the National Park Service. 

“From a broad perspective, there’s no question that Grand Teton and Yellowstone both have a huge impact on our community,” John Morgan, director of events and communication for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, told the Wyoming Truth. “Knowing that those numbers are up — and continue to grow — bodes very well for our economy.”

While the numbers are lower than the park’s record-setting 4 million visitors by August 2021,

park superintendent Palmer “Chip” Jenkins Jr. sees the post-2021 crowds as a golden opportunity to plan for the future of Grand Teton.

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Palmer “Chip” Jenkins Jr. encourages everyone who has visited the park — or plans to visit in the future — to complete the Visitor Survey before it closes on October 10. (Courtesy photo from the National Park Service) 

“We were not at those levels this year, but it’s almost certain we will be back to those levels at some point. It could be three years, seven years, a decade; we don’t know yet,” Jenkin said.  “It’s a tremendous gift — we’ve lived the future. We have a little bit of a reprieve, and we can plan for what’s coming.”

Central to that planning will be the results of a visitor survey. In late August, park officials launched the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Survey Story Map to collect feedback from guests to better understand their experiences, highlights of their visits, frustrations and barriers to park access. Responses will enhance park leadership’s understanding of how policies and infrastructure impact guests, and will ultimately drive park management strategies. 

“Our mission is managing Grand Teton National Park into perpetuity,” Jenkins said. “What we’re supposed to be doing by law is preserving and protecting the resources, while also protecting visitor experience for future generations.”

Jenkins said he’s frequently asked when the park will start actively managing the number of visitors.

“What people don’t understand is that in the 97 years of the park’s history, we’ve been managing towards that objective,” he said. “The vision has always been to disperse visitors across the landscape and provide different kinds of experiences in different places around the park. Over time, we have adopted policies and infrastructure to be able to support that philosophical management approach.”

Examples include the strategic placement of roads, campgrounds, trailheads and visitor services to condense hubs of activities and areas of less impact. In the past decade, the park introduced a reservation system for camping areas, limited the number of wedding permits available each season, specified where commercial guides may operate within the park’s boundaries and staffed “animal jams” to ensure safety around wildlife and congested traffic patterns.

A full analysis of the survey respondents’ comments and suggestions will begin after the survey is closed on Oct. 10. Jenkins is optimistic that participants will represent a broad range of geographies based on a recent socioeconomic study of park visitors in which 92% of participants were from out of state. 

Jenkins said the visitor survey is a critical tool to help park leaders explore “friction points,” find ways to mitigate environmental impact and develop tactics to achieve preservation and experience quality goals.

“We love that people are taking the time to go to the website, experience the story map, and give us their comments and ideas,” Jenkins said. “Grand Teton National Park is owned by the American people. We, as the National Park Service, serve as stewards on behalf of the people, and that’s why everyone’s thoughts, ideas and input matter.” 

Visit the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Survey Story Map to learn more about the process and submit comments via the online form. The deadline to participate is October 10.

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