By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, Wyo. (Reuters) - Nearly 1 million people visited Yellowstone National Park in July, official figures showed on Monday, making last month the busiest ever for America's first national park.
The record of 980,702 visitors was hit as Yellowstone managers face challenges trying to ensure tourists can view wildlife in safety, and as the National Park Service seeks more funding to repair aging facilities and handle bigger crowds.
The number of visitors in July was 14 percent higher than that recorded in the same month last year, according to the Park Service website. It was also 2 percent higher than the number of visitors during June 2010, previously Yellowstone's busiest month.
Overall, total numbers for the year so far were up 17 percent compared with the first seven months of 2014, with 2,279,557 people visiting Yellowstone through the end of July.
If the trend continues, 2015 could be its busiest ever year, topping 2010, when more than 3.6 million people visited.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said parking lots are fuller than usual, and lines for bathrooms longer.
"We're still trying to look at how the numbers are truly affecting the visitor experience," Bartlett said.
Yellowstone can accommodate fewer than 15,000 overnight visitors in hotels, cabins and campgrounds inside the park's 2.2 million acres (8,900 square km). A busy day can bring more than 30,000 visitors, so thousands sleep each night in gateway communities in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
In Cody, Wyoming, July brought increased crowds for hotels, restaurants and attractions, said Sheila Lucas of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce.
Lucas said this summer also brought more Asian visitors, continuing a trend seen over the past few years.
Park managers are working to improve safety education for visitors after five people were injured this summer approaching bison, including tourists trying to take selfies with the large but unpredictable animals.
A Montana man who worked in the park was killed by a grizzly bear earlier this month while hiking alone.
A federal budget proposal released in February called for an additional $433 million for the Park Service in 2016, which marks the agency's centennial. Much of the increase would go to repair infrastructure at parks nationwide.
Following automatic spending cuts that began in 2013, Yellowstone's budget has been trimmed by roughly 10 percent.
It could see an extra $3 million next year after hiking entrance fees and ending a shared admission program with neighboring Grand Teton National Park.
(Reporting by Ruffin Prevost; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)