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Death Valley sees visitor count grow in 2015

Death Valley National Park continues to see an influx of visitors to the popular tourist attraction, with 2015 seeing a record-breaking amount of people visit the destination.

Over 1 million people visited Death Valley last year, making this the eighth consecutive year that visitation to the vast desert park has increased.

Last year saw 1.17 million recreational users visit Death Valley, a 6-percent increase over 2014. Visitation has increased every year since 2007 and is now edging close to the park's record of 1.23 million visitors set in 1999.

August had the highest single-month visitation of 123,900 people, followed by July where 113,672 visitors made their way to the park and March rounded out the single-month visitor counts with 109,421. Visitors during cooler months tend to stay in the park and surrounding area longer than summer visitors do.

After the park saw strong numbers throughout the hottest summer months, weather issues plagued the park during the fall months.

Visitation dropped by about 9 percent in November and December as compared to the previous year.

Flash floods damaged park infrastructure and roads in October and at one point over 300 miles of roads were closed. National Park Service, CalTrans and Inyo County employees all worked together to clear about 500,000 cubic yards of debris off roads.

Most roads in the park have been reopened, except for two sections of road that were heavily damaged, which are still months away from being repaired. Large sections of road base and pavement were washed out in Grapevine Canyon, on Scotty's Castle Road and the Jubilee Pass area of Badwater Road. Repairs are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

Scotty's Castle has also been closed since October, after over three inches of rain in 5 hours caused a flash flood. This flood destroyed the water, electrical and sewer systems at Scotty's Castle and damaged three historic structures. Scotty's Castle is going to be closed all of 2016, and it could be inoperable for two or three years more until it is fully repaired.

Nationwide, more than 305 million people visited national parks in 2015, eclipsing the all-time visitation record that the National Park Service saw in 2014.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said the rise in visitors took place during a time that they have been looking for a new demographic to check out its parks as they celebrate its centennial year.

"The increasing popularity of our national parks comes as we are actively reaching out to new audiences and inviting them to explore the depth and breadth of the national park system," Jarvis said. "The 409 parks we care for preserve natural, cultural and historic landscapes across 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, and they tell stories that reflect the great diversity of our nation."

Increased visitation tests the capacity of Death Valley National Park to continue to provide a great experience for visitors.

"We're adjusting to make sure engaging ranger programs are provided and staff are available to answer visitor questions and to keep restrooms, campgrounds and other facilities clean," the park service said in a statement.

Congress recently provided more funding for national parks for 2016, and that's going to help the National Park Service keep up with the increased demand. In addition, Congress is considering separate National Park Service Centennial legislation, which would further improve the national parks by encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism, while also allowing improved visitor services and connections with a new generation of national park visitors.

Death Valley National Park has received funding to repair federal roads damaged by October's flash floods and is also pursuing federal funding to repair Scotty's Castle.

For more information about Death Valley National Park, visitwww.nps.gov/deva. National Park Service visitation statistics can be viewed at https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/

Contact reporter Mick Akers at makers@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @mickakers

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