August Miller, Deseret News
Rock formations at Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce had highest visitor increase of any Utah park in the past year.

The Obama administration says the recession is convincing more people to stay closer to home and visit inexpensive national parks, just like the president did this past week as he toured Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

It said on Monday that visits to national parks were up about 4 percent in the first half of the year. In Utah, park visits were up a bit more, about 5 percent overall so far this year.

"America's national parks and public lands provide affordable and accessible recreational opportunities from coast to coast," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"It is great to see so many Americans, including the first family, take advantage of the incredible natural, cultural, and historic resources that we have here at home. Especially when times are tough, our parks and public lands refuel the spirit and help energize local economies."

He said that in the first half of the year, national park units had 127.7 million visits, an increase of nearly 4.5 million visits compared to the same period in 2008.

In Utah, park unit visits so far this year are up by nearly 300,000, or by 4.9 percent, compared to a year earlier, according to online statistics. About 6.5 million people have visited Utah parks so far this year.

Most of the increase in Utah came at Bryce Canyon National Park, which had 205,000 more visits than last year. Its visits were up by 26.3 percent, one of the biggest increases by percentage of any large park in the country.

Other large increases in Utah park units included an increase of 47,000 visitors over last year at Arches National Park, an increase of 6.9 percent; and an increase of 28,000 visits (or 1.4 percent over last year) at Zion National Park.

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Increases at other park units in Utah by percentage were: Hovenweep, 8.1 percent; Golden Spike, 5.9 percent; Cedar Breaks, 5.8 percent; Timpanogos Cave, 4 percent; Canyonlands, 3.8 percent; Natural Bridges, 1.3 percent; Dinosaur, 1.1 percent; Capitol Reef, 0.8 percent; and Rainbow Bridge, 0.6 percent.

The only park unit in Utah where visits decreased was Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and its Lake Powell. It had 22,000 fewer visits than last year, which was down 1.6 percent, perhaps showing the recession has made boating less affordable.