ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Nearly 331 million people visited the National Park Service's 417 sites in 2017, but the most popular destination may come as a surprise to many.
According to the National Park Service, the Blue Ridge Parkway saw the most guests with more than 16,000,0000 recreation visits.
In total, the service hosted 330, 882, 751 million visits, a slight dip from the record-breaking 330,971,689 visits in 2016.
While attendance numbers remained relatively stable, people actually spent more time in the parks in 2017 -- more than 1.4 billion hours last year, an increase of 19 million hours over 2016.
"Our National Parks are being loved to death," said US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a statement, whose agency oversees the National Park Service.
"As visitor rates continue at a high level, we must prioritize much-needed deferred maintenance including aging facilities, roads and other critical infrastructure. President Trump's proposal to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund is a step in the right direction. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is an American issue, and the President and I remain ready to work with anyone in Congress who is willing to get the job done."
Zinke was referring to the $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance at the nation's 417 National Park Service sites, which include the 59 headliner National Parks as well as national recreation areas, seashores, parkways, memorials, battlefields and more. Increased attendance at the destinations, only 118 of which charge admission, means that many locations can't keep up with repairs.
The 10 most-visited park systems are:
- Blue Ridge Parkway (16 million visits)
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14.9 million)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (11.3 million)
- Gateway National Recreation Area (9.1 million)
- Lincoln Memorial (7.9 million)
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area (7.8 million)
- George Washington Memorial Parkway (7.5 million)
- Natchez Trace Parkway (6.3 million)
- Grand Canyon National Park (6.2 million)
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial (5 million)