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Yellowstone breaks record for summer visitors

Kenie Massi and Adeline Dupuy, both 23 and from southwestern France, set up their tent at Tower Fall campground in Yellowstone National Park last month.Matt Volz / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

This species in Yellowstone National Park is appearing in greater numbers than ever before — people.

More than 2.5 million of them visited the world's first national park over the June, July and August summer season. That's up by more than 200,000 compared with summer 2009, putting Yellowstone on track to set another attendance record. Nearly 3.3 million people visited during all of 2009, topping the previous record set in 2007 by nearly 5 percent.

Marketing by the state tourism offices in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho probably is boosting Yellowstone tourism, park spokesman Al Nash said.

Nearly 400 national parks can be found all across America, and feature breathtaking vistas, rock formations millions of years old, and more.

The weak economy might also be helping by encouraging cheap vacations.

"Visiting your national parks is a good value," Nash said Wednesday. "And you can sort of adjust the length and the type of your trip to fit your schedule and your wallet more than you can other visitor destinations."

On the other hand, more people can mean longer lines at park entrance stations, restaurants and gift shop cash registers, Nash said, along with more traffic jams where people stop to gawk at roadside wildlife.

"If you came to the park and weren't in a wildlife jam at some point, your trip probably was unusual," Nash said. "And if you were in a wildlife jam, it probably lasted longer than you might have experienced in previous years."

Business has been brisk at the nine hotels and other restaurants and gift shops operated by Yellowstone's largest concessionaire, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, company sales and marketing director Rick Hoeninghausen said.

"It has been a very strong summer. I would say that this year our volumes, our business levels, have mirrored the strong visitation that we've experienced," Hoeninghausen said.

The most people in Yellowstone on any given summer day — 25,000 to 30,000 — far exceeds population estimates for the park's other large mammals.

Yellowstone is home to about that many elk during the summer. About 15,000 to 22,000 elk stick around the park during the winter.

Yellowstone has approximately 3,000 bison, no more than 1,000 moose and close to 100 wolves, according to park figures.

July and August are Yellowstone's busiest months for tourism.

The park had almost 958,000 visitors in July, up 6.5 percent from July 2009, and nearly 855,000 in August, a more than 13 percent increase from a year earlier.