- Associated Press - Saturday, February 24, 2018

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Badlands National Park saw its third straight year of increased attendance in 2017, and at least part of the bump in visitation can be attributed to unintended publicity from a rogue tweet storm.

The 1,054,324 visitors made 2017 the busiest year at the park since 2000, according to a National Park Service release.

The increase marks a 5.83 percent jump - 58,061 more visitors - than in 2016, partially thanks to a former NPS employee with password access to the park’s Twitter account.

The former employee posted a series of pro-climate change messages on the social media platform in late January 2017, apparently in response to the newly inaugurated Trump Administration instituting a temporary media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Badlands National Park officials removed the rogue tweets because the account had been compromised, but not before the Park’s Twitter following jumped from less than 10,000 before the Tweet storm to more than 200,000 afterward, the Rapid City Journal reported .

“Obviously, that was more publicity, however you view that,” Park superintendent Mike Pflaum said.

Pflaum said it would be difficult to say all those extra followers didn’t translate into a boost of inquiries about the park. “I don’t have the hard numbers to back it up, but I’d say the number of phone calls and emails increased over the ensuing weeks over what we would expect,” he said.

Other factors, including increased attention from the National Park Services’ Centennial celebration in 2016 and low fuel costs for travelers, also contributed to the visitation increase, he said.

Social media publicity notwithstanding, Pflaum said the allure of Badlands National Park speaks for itself.

He spoke at length of the park’s stunning, almost otherworldly landscapes, combined with the largest area of native and mixed-grass prairie in the NPS system.

Then there is abundant wildlife, from bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, deer, bobcats, black-footed ferrets to prairie dogs; world-class geology and paleontology; and the human history of Native Americans, homesteaders, pioneers and cowboys.

According to a release, the park will host several special events in the coming year, including a “Discover Badlands” event on June 20, the park’s annual Astronomy Festival from July 6-8, and a Badlands Heritage Celebration on Aug. 18-19.

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center at Cedar Pass is open year-round and the White River Visitor Center in the South Unit, which is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and managed in cooperation with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, will be open from approximately May 15 through Oct. 15.

“When you put that all together and swirl it around in a pretty big chunk of landscape, it does make for a world-class national park,” Pflaum said. “I think it’s been discovered anew with all the publicity,” he said.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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