BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Andrew Hansen and colleague Cory Davis have been studying land use around 57 of the largest national parks in the lower 48 states.

"The point of the study was to try to understand the types of challenges that park managers face in keeping our parks healthy" Hansen said.

The pair looked at population growth and density from 1940 to 2000.

An MSU ecologist, Hansen wanted to see the impact of economic development around parks on the national parks themselves.

What they found, he said, was surprising.

"These ecosystems immediately around national parks" he said "were actually undergoing faster rates of population growth."

Land around national parks has become hot real estate.

When it came to Montana, Hansen said the growth was significant- Glacier National Park spiked by 210 percent, and Yellowstone National Park by 246 percent.

But that increase didn't come close to other parts of the country.

Around Colorado River Parks, density grew by 2,900 percent. At the Mojave National Preserve in California, development increased by over 3,000 percent.

"The proportion of public land around these parks has a big influence on how many people can live there" he said.

YNP is mostly surrounded by National Forest land, Hansen said, so it can't be developed. Whereas around other parks, private land has free reign.

"For developers to come in- there has been interest" said West Yellowstone resident and real estate broker John Costello. "But because of the scarcity and because of the cost, it just does not make it financially feasible to make {development} happen."

Costello said, for West Yellowstone at least, the inability to develop due to being surrounded by National Forest land and YNP has been a hinderance for their economy.

The West Yellowstone 2010 Capital Improvement Plan calls for buying a $1.6 million chunk of NF land southwest of town, but Costello said that has yet to happen.

"Purchase of that land by the town could really open up a number of avenues" Costello said. "Be it commercial, industrial, and residential."

While West Yellowstone craves more development, Hansen said there is such a thing as too much.

In areas where land was significantly more developed around parks- like in California and Florida- there were more issues with nature conservation, he said.

Finding a balance between development and preservation could be key in moving forward, Hansen said.

"The more we learn about these interactions between where we live, and the surrounding nature, the more we can come up with strategies" Hansen said.