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Yellowstone National Park set visitor record in 2010


President Barack Obama, and his family visit the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, August 15, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing
President Barack Obama, and his family visit the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, August 15, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Americans economizing amid financial uncertainty and stable gas prices helped push visitor numbers at Yellowstone National Park to an all-time high in 2010, a park official said on Friday.

It is the second record in as many years for Yellowstone, which stretches across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Yellowstone drew upwards of 3.6 million tourists last year. That beat the record set in 2009 when 3.3 million visitors - including President Barack Obama and his family - flocked to a park known for its hot springs, geysers and wildlife like grizzly bears and bison.

Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said the flagging U.S. economy underscored the bang that people got for each travel buck at national parks.

"It's $25 for a seven-day pass to bring a family into Yellowstone; where else are you going to get that kind of bargain?" he told Reuters in a recent interview.

Americans have in recent years turned to less costly vacation activities like hiking and camping, with park officials in the region reporting an uptick in the number of families and other groups opting for tents and sleeping bags rather than pricey resort lodging.

Nash said gas prices remained stable during the summer travel season this past year, another reason the world's first national park attracted more people than ever.

He said Yellowstone saw an unexpected drop in visitors the summer of 2008, when gasoline spiked to more than $4 per gallon.

That compares to fuel prices in 2010 during the peak visitor months - June through August - when gasoline was less than $3 per gallon, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy.

National parks in the West account for a significant share of the tourist dollars that surrounding communities count on, one reason state tourism offices have in recent years begun aggressively promoting them, Nash said.

Yellowstone in 2010 saw its visitor numbers in August surge well beyond the 800,000 mark for the first time in its 138-year-old history.

That was up 81,000 from the previous record for that month, which happened in 1995 when 773,307 people visited the park.

In a typical year, more visitors pack Yellowstone in July than in any other month, followed by August, June, September and May.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)

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