The government hopes $149.5 million worth of construction projects will foster further growth than the 60.23 million visits last year by renewing walking tracks, aiding access and improving the overall experience.
“We’ve got some of the world’s best and most significant national parks right here in NSW,” Mr Kean said, after a visit to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. “NSW national parks are the ticket for tourism in our own backyard.
“Half of the parks making the  most-visited list are in regional NSW. We want that figure to keep growing and make sure people are seeing the beauty of our regions.”
The Blue Mountains National Park attracted the most visits, surging more than 60 per cent over the past two years to 8.43 million. The Kosciuszko National Park registered a jump of almost half in visits, to 3.27 million in 2018, making it the fourth-most popular in the state.
Gary Dunnett, executive officer at the National Parks Association of NSW, said the latest trends suggest – with the exception of Kosciuszko – visitation growth is dominated by trips to parks near or within the Sydney metro area. Without due attention, conditions of such parks will deteriorate.
“These heavily visited parks are subject to some of the most intensive direct and indirect impacts of any in the state, including arson, the loss of connectivity due to urban development, polluted runoff, alterations to hydrology, illegal construction of mountain bike tracks, dumping and pest and weed incursions,” Mr Dunnett said.
“The fact that, despite these challenges, they continue to attract so many visitors is remarkable”, he said, adding their popular put a spotlight on “the adequacy resourcing for the affected parks”.
Chris Gambian, the new chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council, said support for national parks during the Coalition rule since 2011 had waned, with funding for parks slashed and new additions to the estate all but ceased.
“The rates of parks additions under Gladys Berejiklian have been the slowest of any Premier in the past 60 years,” Mr Gambian said.
“People treasure their national parks and want more areas protected, but the Coalition government has undermined them for years by cutting parks funding and exploring ways of opening them for logging and grazing,” he said.
Mr Kean has stated his intent will be to increase the state’s national parks. An early test, though, may be his ability to head off pressure from his Nationals colleagues including Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who want to see the Murray Valley National Park de-gazetted.
A bill to allow logging back into the park – which was only set up as national park in 2010 – is awaiting debate.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.