Big Bend National Park reached a significant milestone this year. The Far West Texas destination surpassed 500,000 visitors in a calendar year — a first in the park’s 76-year history.
Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker spoke with Marfa Public Radio about the numbers and what they tell us about who’s making the trek out to Big Bend and why.
There’s still a few weeks left until the end of 2021, but the latest numbers show Big Bend has seen a total number of 524,126 visitors in 2021. This tops the previous yearly record in 2019 of 463,832 visitors.
Krumenaker says it’s important to keep in mind that almost all national parks in rural areas saw huge growth during the pandemic, so the increase in number of visitors is not unique to Big Bend.
“It’s not related to anything that we’re doing specifically here, but there is a pent-up demand post-pandemic. And I think a lot of people realize that wide open spaces are good places to be when health has been perceived to be at risk”, he said.
Krumenaker says most of the park’s visitors are from Texas and from the big cities. He says the last time the park did a survey of visitors, more than 60 percent were from Texas.
“So, we find that in the typical year, it’s people from Texas who are coming back and maybe bringing their friends, too,” he said, “But one thing that has been unique since the pandemic is we’re seeing a much higher percentage of first-time visitors than we have before.”
Krumenaker says the increase in visitors can be a challenge at times, like making sure there are enough staff on hand to help visitors have quality experiences each time they visit the park. But he says everyone is welcome, all they ask is that visitors plan ahead.
“This park is really remote. It is hard to get help if you need it. And so people who are well prepared, do their homework, bring the proper equipment. It’s not terribly complicated,” he said, “So, we’re making a huge effort to educate people better before they come and that helps.”