Although growth in park visitation translates to interest in these special places, as well as economic health for the communities that surround the parks, it comes at significant cost to the environment. Since almost all travel into and within the national parks is based on personal automobile travel, congestion has become an unfortunate part of the park experience. And with congestion come air pollution and habitat destruction, threatening the long-term quality of the parks themselves.
Parks need sustainable transportation programs that will maintain or improve access, while reducing the impact of more visitors on park resources. Congress addressed this need in 1999 by establishing the National Park Service's first transportation planning program. The goals for the new program were:
- to provide visitors with non-auto options
- to show leadership in environmentally-sensitive transportation
- to develop partnerships with local and state agencies to achieve shared goals, and
- to improve the quality of the visitor experience, including attention to improved accessibility for all population group.
More than 100 national park units are now using a variety of transit systems, including Buses, trams, vans, and other specialty vehicles. Many of these are powered by alternative fuels such as propane and compressed natural gas; others are diesel/electric hybrid vehicles.
This site section is broken into separate sections for Buses and Shuttles, Trains and Railroads, and Ferries (which includes other water-based alternative transportation).