The International National Trusts Organisation (INTO)

Visitor use management in the NPS

BlogsCase StudiesTAP INTO July 6, 2023

US National Parks host learning visit

Rob Curry, Head of Organisational Performance, National Trust blogs about his experience with the National Parks Service, on a visit supported by TAP INTO

First up – online training

The US National Park Service’s approach to Visitor Use Management (VUM) was not totally new to me, when I travelled to the US to spend three weeks learning more about how it’s used in practice.  That’s because they were kind enough to invite me to a week-long online training course that they run for NPS staff.

That set me up to investigate how it compared with the way we approach visitor management in the National Trust.

Whoever you talk to in the Parks Service, it won’t be long before you are into a discussion about Desired Conditions, Indicators & Thresholds and Management Actions.

Rewarding experiences for visitors

In many ways VUM is common with other planning frameworks that I have come across, but its uniqueness is how its aligned to thinking holistically about visitor use.  The focus is on achieving a level of visitor use that ensures visitors are getting rewarding experiences, whilst providing a high level of care for natural and historic assets.

NPS Los Alamos visitor welcome centre

Fort Collins, Colorado

It’s all very well getting familiar with frameworks and guidance documents, but what I was keen to understand more about was how the approach was being embedded in the Park Service. Whilst in Fort Collins, I had meetings with the Planning Division of the Denver Service Centre, who support park units in visitor use management planning.

Webinar hosting

I also had the opportunity to co-host a Webinar attended by around 50 NPS staff, to share more about my role in the National Trust, our history and how we approach visitor use.

Before long it was time to get out and see some of the places the Park Service manages.

Expert guide

My guide for this part of my visit was Zach Miller, who picked me up in Denver for a week-long trip across Colorado and New Mexico.  Zach proved to be an amazing host, not only due to his expertise in visitor use management, but also his knowledge of the natural environment, culture and history around the places we visited.

On a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado

Learning about NPS sites

The visits helped to highlight the range of different places the Park Service manages – whilst there are 63 National Parks which are probably the better-known sites to international visitors, they manage a total of 424 ‘units’, which include National Monuments, National Historic Sites, National Historic Parks, National Battlefields, National Memorials, National Wild and Scenic Rivers and Riverways.


Read more in my full report

I was very fortunate to visit all of these NPS sites – click here for my full report, which details approaches to visitor statistics, parking, visitor behaviour, conservation challenges and visitor counting:

  • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Taos Pueblo
  • The Manhattan Project
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve
  • Bandelier National Monument
  • Petroglyphs National Monument
  • White Sands National Park
  • Department of the Interior Offices, Washington DC
  • Shenandoah National Park

Huge thanks!

I am hugely thankful to INTO, the National Trust and NPS for supporting my time in the US.

The visit has left me much to reflect on and has established mutually beneficial contacts within the Parks Service.  I think there is also an opportunity to make wider connections between NPS and the Trust, and the continuing relationship we have through INTO.