Visitor Use, Katmai National Park and Preserve

Visitors watch bears at Katmai's Brooks Falls.
Visitors watch bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve. July is when the salmon run and bears are at their peak densities.
Understanding visitor use patterns across the parks and over time allows park managers to assess where rangers and staff need to be stationed and where impacts to resources (such as trampling) may need to be monitored or mitigated in the future. Likewise, visitor use patterns may also inform commercial business operators (such as guides or air taxies) by providing insights to the areas currently visited and the timing of visits, details that are helpful when planning their services.

Park Visitation Increases

Over the last ten years, the number of visitor use days reported by businesses operating in Katmai National Park and Preserve (NP&Pres) has fluctuated between 25,000 and 30,000 per year. Visitation patterns are affected not only by sport fishing and bear viewing opportunities, but also by national events. The economic downturn in late 2008 affected the number of visitors in the 2009 season. Visitation for Brooks Camp dropped by almost 2,000 visitor use days and took three years to recover (Figure 1).
A graph of visitor use by year and location in Katmai.
Figure 1. Visitor use days by year for select locations (2008-2017) in Katmai NP&Pres, as reported by the commercial use operators.

[Data from the Katmai NP&Pres CUA database 1/23/18]

Hallo Bay, Geographic Harbor/Amalik Bay, Kukak Bay, and Swikshak Lagoon are some of the most visited locations on the Katmai coast, receiving over 5,000 visitor use days per year (Figure 1). The annual variation in visitation to other interior sites is probably due to the change in the timing and magnitude of salmon runs connected to fishing and bear viewing opportunities.
A graph of KATM visitors by month.
Figure 2. Monthly visitor use (May-October) for the years 2007-2017 in Katmai NP&Pres.

[Data from the Katmai NP&Pres CUA database 1/23/18]

Figure 2 shows that most of the visitation for Katmai NP&Pres occurs in July and August, with about 70% of the visitor use days occurring during these two months. July visitation in the park continues to grow (over 12,000 visitor use days in 2017), whereas visitation in June has remained flat.
A graph of visitor use by month and location.
Figure 3. Areas with the highest visitor use by month in 2017. Areas represented are some of the most frequently visited locations in Katmai  NP&Pres.

[Data from the Katmai NP&Pres CUA database 1/23/18]

Figure 3 provides a snapshot of where visitation occurred each month in 2017. Brooks Camp received more than 7,000 visitor use days in July when the bear numbers on Brooks River are at their peak, and much less in the other months. In August, visitation was more spread out among park locations (Figure 3).
A graph of visitors by year and activity.
Figure 4. Visitor use days by activity as reported by the commercial operators working in Katmai NP&Pres, 2007-2017. Sport fishing, bear viewing, and air taxi services continue to be the most popular activities in Katmai.

[Data from the Katmai NP&Pres CUA database 1/23/18]

The three main activities reported by commercial operators are sport fishing, bear viewing, and air taxi; these activities are not mutually exclusive (Figure 4). Other reported activities, such as big game transporters, hiking tours, and photography, continue to make up a very small percentage of visitor use days.
A small plane on the beach near a bear.
Planes, or air taxis, are the primary way people get to Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Methods

Remote Alaska parks do not have entrance stations to count people visiting the park. Some local visitation occurs, but the vast majority of visitors to Katmai NP&Pres use a lodge, guiding service, or air taxi operator. These commercial operators pay a fee for each visitor they bring to the park, and report back to the park the number of visitors, activities visitors are engaged in, and where within the park visitors go. Each park is divided into areas, roughly corresponding to watersheds. Areas with concentrated use have been sub-divided into smaller areas to provide more specificity regarding the location of use. The data collected by commercial operators are the primary means to quantify and understand visitation patterns and public uses in Katmai.