Chaco Culture National Historic Park is about 90 minutes from the nearest restaurant or motel and it is accessible only by a road that is a challenge to many suspensions. Consequently, it is only thinly visited.
The chart below shows annual recreational visitors to select National Parks. How did I select them? Hot Springs, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon were all honored by America the Beautiful quarters that were issued in 2010. (Mt. Hood National Forest was also included, but it’s not an NPS property, and I didn’t feel like hunting for National Forest data.)
As anyone can see, Chaco’s remote location puts it far off the radar screen of many people, unlike first-tier parks like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Put simply, for every soul who enters Chaco, 110 enter Grand Canyon National Park.
Interestingly, the number of visitors to Chaco has dropped rather precipitously in recent years. Between 2002 and 2011, annual visitor levels declined by more than 50%. The annual rate of decline over that period was 6.8%.
In contrast, all NPS properties saw visitor levels increase at 1.0% annually over the same period.
What was the trend for the four National Parks that were honored with America the Beautiful quarters in 2010? Did the coin cause a boost in visitor levels? At first blush, the data say no. For the four parks, visitor levels declined by 90,208 in aggregate between 2010 and 2011 — a 2.1% decline. This is a bit worse than the 1.5% decline for all NPS properties together.
The interesting deviation occurred with Hot Springs National Park, in Arkansas. Between 2010 and 2011, visitor levels increased by 6.4% after the quarter was released. The year-over-year comparison is skewed because quarters for all parks were not released at the same time. The Hot Springs quarter was released first, in April, which may explain the bigger change. I might avoid this by only looking at December data for 2010 and 2011, as all 2010 quarters were released by November.
My hunch is the impact of a quarter advertising a famous name brand National Park like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Grand Canyon is minimal. For a less-well-known spot like Hot Springs the impact will be greater. For an obscure spot like Chaco, the impact can be monstrous.
We will see. The quarter was released on April 2, 2012.