Obama family at Yellowstone

JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff

President Barack Obama tours the geyser basin at Old Faithful on Aug. 15, 2009.

After Yellowstone National Park welcomed a record 4 million visitors in 2015, what will America’s first national park do for an encore in 2016?

Probably more of the same. Tourism experts are predicting that 2016 should be another banner year for Montana’s tourism industry. Montana hosted 11.7 million nonresident travelers in 2015, an 8 percent increase from 2014. However, the $3.6 billion, in spending represented a decrease of 8 percent from the previous year.

Officials from the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research suspect that lower gas prices likely contributed to the decline in nonresident spending last year. But other factors may be in play. Travelers belonging to the millennial generation might account for a dip in tourism spending. In general, millennials — people who were born between 1980 and 1995 — have less disposable income and are more likely to be paying down student debt. Millennials are also more likely to take advantage of the “sharing economy,” using services such as Uber and Airbnb, a website that allows people to list and rent out their property to travelers, usually at a discount compared to what motels charge, said Norma Nickerson, director of the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at UM.

UM’s research shows that Yellowstone and Glacier National Park represent the biggest draw to out-of-state travelers. A number of events that will coincide with the centennial of the National Park Service could also boost visitation this year.

The U.S. Army protected Yellowstone from poachers and other unsavory characters for most of the three decades prior to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. Conservationists had long advocated for the creation of a civilian corps of rangers to protect Yellowstone’s resources and ensure the safety of tourists.

“I earnestly recommend the establishment of the bureau of National Parks,” President William Howard Taft wrote in 1912. “Such legislation is essential to the proper management of those wonderful manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people. The Yellowstone Park, the Yosemite, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, the Glacier National Park and the Mount Rainer National Park and others furnish appropriate instances. In only one case have we made anything like adequate preparation for the use of a park by the public. That case is the Yellowstone.”

Writing in “The Yellowstone Story,” historian Aubrey L. Haines mentioned that Congress refused to allocate any money for the park service, although the Department of the Interior established a quasi-park service in 1913 and “seasonal rangers” worked in the park in the years before the Park Service was established.

“The idea of a centralized national park administration rattled around in the federal bureaucracy for years before the National Park Services was created on Aug. 25, 1916,” writes Paul Schullery, author of “Searching for Yellowstone.” The National Park Service Act charged the new agency to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Several special events have been planned as the Park Service centennial approaches.

The National Park Service will host local, state and national dignitaries for the National Park Service centennial, on Aug. 25 at Roosevelt Arch.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody will host a symposium commemorating the centennial on June 15. Six scholars will share their perspectives on the history of art and artists in Yellowstone with “Inspiring Sights: Yellowstone through Artists’ Eyes.”

“We’re excited to share in the 100th anniversary of the National Park Serivice — especially since Yellowstone is right in our back yard,” said Karen McWhorter, the center’s Scarlett Curator of Western Art. “The symposium coincides with an exhibition of the same name in the in the Whitney Western Art Museum, as well as the publication of a revised edition of art historian Peter Hassrick’s book ‘Drawn to Yellowstone.’”