Economist Out of Wilderness -

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Corbis Recreation Out of the wilderness Jul 10th 2008 | YOSEMITE VILLAGE From The Economist print edition People are shunning the great outdoors. Blame conservationists, not video games ON JULY 4th, normally the busiest public holiday of the year, tourists were put off by high petrol prices and more than 300 wildfires raging across California. On Memorial Day, traditionally the beginning of the summer season, it was cold. In 1999 there was a grisly murder. In 1997 the Merced river flooded, inundating a hotel and wiping out hundreds of campsites. There are always excuses for the absence of people in Yosemite National Park. The number of visitors to California’s most spectacular valley has dropped for nine out of the past 13 years, and seems to be heading down again this year. Even in 2007—a relatively busy year—attendance was 11% below the mid-1990s peak. In America as a whole the number of visitors to national parks and historic sites peaked in 1987. Visitors are staying for less time and camping less often, especially in the wilderness. And rangers are hearing less American-accented English. Were it not for British and German tourists enjoying the weak dollar, the parks would be desolate. Falling enthusiasm for what the writer Wallace Stegner called America’s “best idea” is especially striking in such a fast-growing part of the country. Since 1994 California has swollen from 31.5m to over 38m people. The speediest growth is inland, close to parks like Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Yosemite. The same pattern holds further east. Larry Swanson of the Centre for the Rocky Mountain West notes a strong correlation between population increase and proximity to national parks and forests. Americans plainly think it is a good idea to
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Economist Out of Wilderness -

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