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Fuzzy math determines Delaware Water Gap National Park visitor totals

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

This report, investigated and written by Beth Brelje, was published on March 19, 2012 in the Pocono Record in response to a request for investigation to the claim by the National Park Service that the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area receives almost 5 million visitors per year. Brelje explores the methods used by the Park Service to collect statistics, how each vehicle that passes through the recreation area is counted, and points out how a round trip on River Road from Fernwood to Interstate 80 each day counts as 13.06 visits to the park.

You can view the article on Beth Brelje's wordpress site by clicking HERE. It is the 4th article when you scroll down.


Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area gets more visits than the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park or Mount Rushmore, according to the National Park Service.

Statistics recently released by the National Park Service revealed that the recreation area drew 4.9 million visits in 2011. That translates to more than 13,000 visits a day.

That ranks the recreation area 10th in the country for the number of recreation visits, according to the National Park Service.

Where are all the people?

The Park Service recently put out a press release, titled “Delaware Water Gap NRA = money and jobs for local economy.” It boasted that it was responsible for supporting 2,500 local jobs and bringing $151 million in tourism money to the park and surrounding area.

Anyone who has stood in line for a boat to the Statue of Liberty, or been stuck in a buffalo herd traffic jam in Yellowstone may wonder: If the recreation area has so many visits, where are all the people?

“Have you been to Smithfield Beach on a summer day?” answered Michele Kuna. It is Kuna’s job to collect preliminary park statistics that are sent to statisticians in Denver, Colorado. The numbers are run through a complicated formula to arrive at the number of monthly visits.

“Those numbers reflect people staying in campgrounds, using (Pocono Enviromental Education Center) and Dingmans Campground,” said Park Service spokeswoman Deb Nordeen. There are Appalachian Trail hikers, canoe campers on the river and other campgrounds that are also counted.

Dingmans Campground, with its 125 sites, can count as around 600 visits a night, in season. It is assumed that six people are in each camping party there.

Traffic counts make up a large portion of the 4.9 million visits. At the Route 209/739 intersection, 142,247 visits were counted in 2011, according to federal figures. In 2010 and 2009, the exact same number of visits were reported.

Notice the word is “visits,” not “visitors.”

A car crossing over a traffic counter three times is counted three times, but each car does not amount to one person visiting.

At the north business toll station, the traffic count is multiplied by .24. At the intersection of routes 739 and 209, each car is multiplied by .08.

At the south business toll station, vehicles are multiplied by .12. Make a round trip from Bushkill to Milford and your car will be counted as .88 of a visit.

In February, 2,100 vehicles a day crossed the Dingmans Bridge during the mid-week evening commute hours, according to Dingmans Bridge secretary treasurer Carol Phillips. Of those, Phillips estimates 70 percent, or 1,470, are local residents commuting home from work.

Each will go through the Route 209/739 intersection and be counted as .08 of a park visit. Assume it is a round trip to work and back home.

Those 1,470 commuters at this intersection alone account for 235 visits a day, 1,646 visits a week or 85,775 visits a year. But these are not visitors creating or supporting tourism jobs. Many commuters make a round trip on River Road from Fernwood to Interstate 80 each day. That ride sends them over a traffic counter near Smithfield Beach, once in each direction. Statisticians multiply by 6.53 each time a car is registered there, as if each vehicle is packed with beach goers.

A round trip counts as 13.06 visits to the park. Do this five times a week and it counts as 65.3 park visits. One commuter could count as 3,396 visits in a year taking this route. That is, if all the counters are working.

Some of the electronic counter loops embedded in the road are out of order. The recreation area has 10 count sites and 35 sensor loops.

For example, there is a loop under each lane at the intersection of routes 209 and 739 in Dingmans Ferry, totaling eight loops at one site. But four loops at that intersection don’t work, Kuna said.

Parkwide, nine sensor loops are out of order. Some loops have been down since at least 2004. Where a loop is broken, Kuna is instructed to use the last accurate number. That means, in some cases, using traffic counts from before 2004. It explains why at some count sites, the number of visits has been the same for years. Some loops have been in the ground 25 years.

The Park Service expects to replace all the counter loops by the end of summer, Kuna said. “We are seeing an increase at all visitor sites since 2000,” Kuna said.

She believes the new counter loops will show an increase in park visits. For now, Kuna says she is comfortable handing in the numbers she has.

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