WASHINGTON - Ten million more people visited national parks last year than in 2008, but the numbers fell short of the record for park visitation from 1987.
More than 285 million people visited national parks and other units of the National Park Service in 2009, up from nearly 275 million in 2008, said statistics the agency released Tuesday.
The record for visitation to national parks was set in 1987 at 287.2 million.
Still, the 3.9 percent increase in 2009 visitation compared with 2008 was a triumph for the park system in a year when many sectors of the travel industry suffered a downturn because of the weak economy.
“People both here and abroad know that our national parks are America’s best idea, even during an economic downturn,’’ Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. . “Our national parks are treasures that tell the story of our country and celebrate its beauty and culture, and they provide vacation bargains for families living on a tight budget.’’
Factors that may have contributed to the increase in numbers in 2009, says the park service, include three weekends when park entrance fees were waived; visits by President Obama and his family to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon; publicity from Ken Burns’s televised series about the national parks; lower gas prices; and the strong value of the euro against the dollar, which encourages European tourism to the United States.