Visitors to Haleakala decline 12% in 2017

Park officials cite ‘ebb and flow’ of data

Visitors to the summit of 10,023-foot Haleakala create action photos. This photo was taken in February 2014, when visitation was building to a peak in 2016. The 1,142,040 visitors that year surpassed the number in 2017. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Haleakala National Park reported a 12 percent decline in visitors in 2017 compared to 2016, though park officials note that the numbers tend to fluctuate.

The National Park Service released its annual peer-reviewed “Visitor Spending Effects” report late last month, which showed that 1,112,390 people visited Haleakala National Park last year, down from the 1,263,558 who visited in 2016.

Park spokesman Charles Lassiter said last week that looking at visitor data over from 2007-17 “there have been several ebbs and flows.” The highest number of visitors recorded in the period, 1,322,817, was logged in 2007, with visitation on a general downward trend in subsequent years to 785,300 in 2013, the low point in the period.

Visitation picked up again and peaked in 2016 before falling off in 2017.

Lassiter noted that 2015 and 2016 were two of the biggest visitation years for national parks nationwide, which could be attributed to a national campaign centered on the National Park Service centennial.

The parking lot for the Haleakala Visitor Center is fairly empty in this photo taken in February 2014. Because of overcrowding at this parking lot and others for sunrise, the park implemented a reservation system that limited visitation to 150 vehicles from 3 to 7 a.m.

“The numbers from last year are not an anomaly, so there are no current attempts that I am aware of to attribute them to any specific cause and effect,” Lassiter said.

The implementation of the sunrise reservation system in February 2017 did not appear to be impacting park visitation or revenues, Lassiter indicated.

“Visitation seems to be more evenly distributed throughout the day,” he said.

The park began limiting visits from 3 to 7 a.m. to 150 vehicle reservations made online (recreation.gov) for $1.50 per reservation. Overcrowding at the summit for sunrise led to unsafe conditions, such as people wandering off trails in the dark to try to get away from crowds, and environmental damage.

Prior to the reservation system, more than 300 vehicles were driving to the summit before sunrise, overwhelming the limited parking spaces.

Lassiter said that the reservation system did not appear to impact park revenues. He noted that 80 percent of park entrance fees stay in the park.

The report said that visitors to Haleakala National Park spent an estimated $69.8 million and generated $89.3 million in economic output in 2017. The largest areas of visitor spending were for hotels, restaurants and gas.

“We are delighted to provide economic benefits to our local communities while sharing the story and experiences of this special place,” said Haleakala National Park Superintendent Natalie Gates.

The report was researched and developed by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service.

All National Park Service units in Hawaii drew a total of 6 million visitors in 2017, the report showed. Those visitors spent $400 million in the state. Nationally, there were 330 million park visitors with an economic benefit of $35.8 billion.

The report is available at go.nps.gov/vse.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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