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The Absence of Ecotourism in Olympus National Park and Strategies for Further Development

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Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world. A vast number of travelers are drawn to visiting national parks, with their beautiful and picturesque scenery. The effects of tourism are sometimes detrimental; causing changes to the landscape and effecting people who habitat it. Some destinations are being restricted and even completely closed off to the public entirely. In some cases, too much of a good thing, can turn into too much of a bad thing. In this assignment I will be looking at the effect that tourism has on Olympic National Park. Specifically, on how tourism effects the park economically, environmentally and socio-culturally. I will also be investigating how tourism here is sustainable and what could be done to further avoid the depletion in order to maintain and ecological balance.

In the state of Washington lies Olympic National Park, situated in the Pacific North West Peninsula. The park stretches across numerous diverse ecosystems, boasting dramatic mountain peaks, lakes and beaches, to ancient forests with trees that can be dated back possibly over a thousand years old. The park is very popular for hikers and backpackers, with many visitors interested in ascending its glacier covered Mount Olympus.

Economic Impacts

The park draws in a huge number of tourists each year, pulling in an estimated “2,824,908 people in 2012 alone”, and it is the 7th most-visited national park in America according to (Scott, 2018). Here is an assessment of the national economic contribution tourism has on Olympic National Park. According to the National Park Service (NPS) an annual report, shows that 3.4 million visitors to Olympic National Park in 2017 spent $279 million in communities neighboring the park, supporting 3,556 jobs in the local area having a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $386 million. Tourism in the national park is a substantial driver in the nation-wide economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the national park service (Maynes, 2015). These figures show that national parks across the US, not only bring in enough money through tourism to support the local communities, but these national parks also subsidize to the national economy (Fork Forum, 2018). A visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. The report presents $18.2 billion of direct expenditure by more than 330 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This cost supported 306,000 jobs nationally; 255,900 of those jobs are found in the gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion. (Forks Forum, 2018). The main revenue comes from the hotel industry taking in 94.5 million. Restaurants were second, followed by transportation, gas, retail and recreation industries. Rounding out the visitor spending was the grocery stores and ending with the camping regions around the Peninsula. The total visitor spending saw in increase from 2015 of £16.2 million, with a $60 million increase from 2012, the visitor spending around Olympic National Park has grown (Scott, 2017)

While these statistics indicate growth in a region that has struggled to maintain a sustainable economy over a period of 40 years, things could be better. There was a downtrend in numbers of visitors in 2017. There was an economic impact of $400 million, in 2016, meaning that the Olympic Peninsular witnessed a 4% loss in tourism revenue during 2017 (Scott, 2017).

The park has helped maintain over 3.8 thousand jobs around the region, far more than the recourse removal jobs of logging, fishing and mining. Hotels and restaurants make up 1,700 jobs, while the remaining jobs go to the recreation industries, retail, transportation, camping, groceries and gas. Like the visitor spending, the growth has remained consistent since 2012, increasing every year. As a remote region, it is even more incredible to think how much of an economic impact Olympic has (Scott, 2017).

The national park suffers from economic dependence as it relies on this source of income to be able to manage the park. This means that that environmental degradation occurs through the need to keep visitor numbers high in order to keep the park maintained.

Environmental Impacts

Many visitors focus on enjoying themselves while visiting the destination and this can lead to intentional or unintentional disrespectful behavior. This can include behaviors such as pollution with what they leave behind, trampling vegetation and parking in undesignated areas bringing further destruction to the land. The negative impacts of tourism effects national parks globally by provoking changes in the ecosystems. Things such as cars, snowmobiles and planes cause the biggest disturbances. Tourism creates land degradation, air and noise pollution, littering, trampling and the change of ecosystems. All these areas of influence not only risk the wellbeing of the land, but also the different types of wildlife that call the park home.

Soil Pollution

The national park service has 300 million people visiting their sites each year leaving a trace of their visit on the ground and the impact on the land is enormously detrimental. Any kind of human involvement in national parks will influence the upkeep of the natural landscapes. Detrimental changes to the eco system can occur through the obvious reason, trampling causing soil erosion. Another major reason is due to litter which takes often hundreds of years to degrade and this can also affect the wildlife as this disrupts their natural ecosystem. Another common reason is because of the soil pollution produced via human food waste and human defecation and urine, as there are long stretches of land without a toilet or bin in the vicinity. This causes toxic pollution of the water table that gets into the streams and rivers, spreading it all around the park and it changes the make-up of the soil, making it very toxic and demineralized, causing imbalances to the soil; which have a major effect on plants being able to grow in future. This then causes a chain reaction, affecting insects and animals further up the food chain. Each individual lifeform that is affected, would have added something to the environment in one form or another, so this can have such a huge effect on the whole site.

When regarding the national park as a world heritage site this Is a devastating thought, but unfortunately the economic dependence of this site means that environmental degradation Is bound to occur.

Impacts on the Nature and Wildlife

Olympis National Park is renowned for being species rich, holding some rare wildlife as well as offering a sanctuary for the animals to go about their daily activities in peace and harmony. It has been a popular site for bird watchers as it’s said to have ‘once in a lifetime’ observations of the birds in natural surroundings. This isn’t the case for all animals though, and this will only get worse as more and more species become affected by various types of pollution factors. This will eventually cause contracting biodiversity from habitat loss. There is also a major issue from a result of humans deliberately feeding the animals which hinders the animals natural foraging ability as they become dependent on human food.

This study examined the negative socio-cultural impacts of ecotourism activities. According to an article by Seattle Times (2018) state experts had to relocate half the estimated 700 goats that had been permanently homed in Olympic National Park, with the remainder having to be killed. The mountain goats were not indigenous to the park and were introduced by a hunting group around a century ago, according to park officials. These goats then multiplied in to the hundreds. Officials became concerned about aggressive behavior after a mountain goat killed an elderly hiker in 2010. The mountain goats are known to seek salt from tourists and hikers, through sweat and urine as Olympic National Park does not have naturally occurring salt sources, and that increases their interactions with pursuing humans. These goats were digging up the soil around where tourists had urinated and effecting the terrain so that some plants and shrubbery failed to grow in those areas. The noise made by humans was enough to entice some other wildlife in the area to investigate the tourist’s camps.

Olympic peninsula was affected greatly by the logging industry and the forests have been slowly returning over the last 32 years but logging still continues by private owners of segments of the land. The peninsula was subjected to sixty years of mass deforestation. This was the result of numerous logging communities. These communities thrived on this industry and it had a very negative affect on the local wildlife in the national park. Essentially destroying some wildlife’s habitats further affecting the food chain. There was a controversy surrounding the adverse effects deforestation had on the spotted owl species.

Noise Pollution

Due to the rise in popularity of national parks, there is a greater need for transportation networks to be expanded. Resulting in heavy noise pollution spreading in to more remote places. This human caused noise has consequences for wildlife resulting in entire ecosystems to change. The human noise pollution reduces many animals’ ability to hear natural sounds, which can be the difference between life or death. Protected natural areas across the world such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are essential for natural resource conservation. “In a 2017 study of the effects of noise pollution in protected areas, a team used millions of hours of acoustic recordings of human caused-noise in national parks. The findings were that noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was impinging into the furthest reaches of these remote areas” (Buxton, 2017). The amount of noise depends on how a protected area is managed, where a site located and what kinds of activities take place nearby. Protected areas manage by local government had the most noise pollution, since they were in or near to large urban centers. The main sources of noise were, roads, aircraft land conversion and recourse extraction activities such as oil and gas production mining and logging.

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Sociocultural Impacts

Social impacts of tourism refer to changes in the lives of people living in destination communities. Cultural impacts of tourism refer to the changes in the arts, artefacts, customs, rituals and architecture of people. The term ‘socio-cultural impacts’ refers to changes to residents’ everyday experiences, as well as to their values, way of life and intellectual and artistic properties.

Land Dispute and Divided Opinions

Another issue that can be considered is a controversial subject regarding plans of ‘land grabbing’ privately owned parts of the Peninsula by volunteers and conservationists who wish to expand the park. The local community that has ownership of this land are troubled by essential leakages from there source of income from timbering and plans to source other fossil fuels as well as fishing. This is a difficult situation as the owners are essentially disrupting the environment, but this is their rightful ownership and taking this away would be a threat to their culture and their source of income. Conservationists supporting Olympic Park had started a campaign back in 2014 called ‘The Wild Olympics’. “The legislation would provide durable, permanent safeguards for the Peninsula’s most priceless natural treasures; our towering ancient forests, free-flowing rivers, critical fish and wildlife habitat and our clean water” (Gallant, 2016) advocating protection of the wilderness and making the Peninsulas wilderness more sustainable. Part of the plan was to buy back land off the private owners to increase the size of the national park. Although there have been adverse petitions created by parts of the community angered towards the campaign, there is a divide of opinions within the neighboring communities of the peninsula. According to Gallant (2016), they have been building connections with fellow citizens with every single community on the Peninsula, to build support from various local voices; to listen to apprehensions and receive feedback to shape the proposal. More than 450 Peninsula businesses, farms, faith leaders, hunting and fishing groups, elected officials, conservation and civic groups support Wild Olympics and over 10,000 Peninsula residents have signed petitions and written letters to back the petition. There is clearly a crucial need for change, but there are these challenging situations whereby we need to consider socio-cultural factors from every angle. This issue involved social dislocation and economic dependence of the private land owners, but as a result of no action taking place, eventually the park will have to close and there will be no income for many more of the people within the neighboring communities as their main source of income is the tourists.

Air and Noise Pollution

A huge factor involved in tourists love for nature is the quiet surroundings untainted by man-made activities. It is supposed to be a short break from the outside world, a space of tranquillity. This has drastically changed since the aircrafts owned by Olympic Park air tours, other transport and machines for fossil fuel extraction cause the silence in the nature to be disrupted as well as contaminating the air with other gases. This affects a large scale of the neighboring communities as well as the park visitors. All these factors also contribute massively to the carbon footprint, speeding up the effects of global warming.

Sustainable Tools Incorporating Theoretical Application

“Evidence suggests that modern tourists are quite environmentally conscious and a responsibility is emerging for new tourists to behave respectfully towards the environment”, - Krippendorf (1987, p.132). Despite this, there’s still many developers who consider tourism to be a relatively non-polluting industry. Regarding resource consumption, tourism is one of the leading malefactors and certainly has a considerable impact upon our environment. Most national parks have adopted ideas to make their location more sustainable when taking into consideration factors such as economics, environmental and socio-cultural. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to visit sustainable tourist destination as more and more people are educated on the effects our generation will have on the future, and the kinds of things we can be doing to prevent further damage.

It appears that the best solution for sustaining Olympic National Park would be to initiate the ideas of the Wild Olympic campaigners to expand the park which would provide a bigger space for a more suitable infrastructure. This could prevent a lot of the environmental issues if incorporating a fallow year in segmented parts of the park so that it has a break from human interaction allowing soil to rebalance its properties as well as allowing flora, fauna and vegetation to grow and wildlife to create sustainable habitats. The expansion would also mean the park has a larger people carrying capacity so that every inch of the park has less erosion and pollution.

In order to do this the main tool would be creating a way to educate the private land owners on the future effects of tourism as well as assuring them that their activities for income could still continue but in more strictly designed, designated parts of the park or by designing other opportunities for these people who would otherwise be dependent on the extraction of local resources (Wearing & Neil, 1999). Creating other forms of financial gains involved in the industries of the parks development. Community-based tourism planning can create opportunities for people to own businesses related to the project, designed to be less harmful to the environment than prior activities. During these industry related employment schemes, employees could receive training to be educated about the role and effects of heritage tourism and going green (Timothy & Boyd 2003). This has the potential to reduce leakages within the community making sure the profits are being poured directly to the proposed business’ created by the expansion of the park and to the neighboring community.

Another educational scheme would be to increase environmental awareness and action among tourists (Wearing & Neil, 1999), this could be applied through multiple schemes. My first idea would be to create a short clip that pops up when booking a visit via the website. The clip could contain tourist responsibilities and expected behavior with an explanation. The video should use lots of persuasive language and have interesting qualities in order to receive the attention off the tourist. The website could have options for travel that reduce the carbon foot print like Lake District National Park advertise. Between 2011 and 2015 they aimed to “generate a step-change in how visitors travel to and around the Central and Southern Lake District, enabling them to make greater use of sustainable modes of travel, creating a network of cycle hire fleets, through integrated ticketing and discounts for those arriving by public transport, targeted marketing and information designed to change visitors' travel behavior to/from and around the Lakes, and ensure that, as far as possible, local residents and communities benefit from the program”.

Not only have they incorporated schemes that could potentially reduce the carbon footprint, but also initiated a scheme to look after the local communities which respects that it is their home and they should have special treatment for helping in sustaining the park.

Another idea for the education of the tourists is involving a short clip at the entrance of the park that reminds them of the responsibilities they carry and the reasons being.

The park could have more porter loos and bins (that wildlife can’t enter) situated all over the park, or tourists could be offered she-wees and he-wees so they if they need to urinate, they can do so by disposing of it responsibly.

There could also be security cameras situated around the park, as tourists knowingly being watched will be less likely to have disrespectful behavior. This could cause issues though as most people would like the freedom of the park and this would take it away from them.

My last idea would be raising prices as the location is very popular and you could reduce carrying capacity by doing so and increase profits at the same time.


The national park suffers from economic dependence as it relies on this source of income to be able to manage the park. This means that that environmental degradation occurs through the need to keep visitor numbers high in order to keep the park maintained.

Ecotourism can be a motivation for preservation and may also provide socio-cultural impact on the host communities, if the right education of ecotourism is provided to the community and the tourists. A strict scheme should be applied, but if complied to could result in rewards as part of a scheme to get everyone involved. The main ideas put forward involve more facilities, training, opportunities and a fallow year if expansion can be obtained. This strategy could be profitable as ecotourism is something most people who have the money are willing to pay extra for, long term endurance and profitability should be one of the foremost strategic directions of tourism enterprises as the environment is essentially the most important asset.


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