Montana’s park system skilled a 44% improve in visitation throughout the first six months of 2021 in comparison with the identical time within the pre-pandemic 2019.
The numbers proceed to develop and proceed to set information, Pat Doyle, advertising supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, advised The Middle Sq..
“Only for somewhat little bit of context, our 2020 yr, clearly a pandemic yr, the place we had file breaking visitation, we had virtually a further million folks throughout our park system. And this yr is much more of the identical,” he stated.
Throughout the first half of 2021, an estimated 1.57 million folks visited Montana’s state parks. In comparison with final yr, that was an 11.1% improve, in line with the 2021 Midyear Montana State Parks Visitation Report. That was roughly 480,804 extra guests than in 2019.
Montana is a giant state with a number of world-class outside recreation throughout it, Doyle stated. When residents had a number of downtime and COVID restrictions, it invited lots of people to discover their very own state greater than they’ve prior to now, he stated.
Everybody has outside recreation bucket lists irrespective of the place they stay, he stated. The pandemic gave them a chance to discover locations like somebody from western Montana popping out to Makoshika State Park or Drugs Rocks, Doyle stated, to discover completely different landscapes throughout the state.
“I believe that one of many nice issues about our state park system is that it actually tells the story of Montana from a number of completely different views, that [it] could be not simply leisure however historic, cultural and from a number of completely different views from ghost cities to battlefields. I believe it actually gave folks a chance to be extra immersed of their state, the place perhaps holidays would have taken them out of state perhaps to Washington or Oregon or Idaho,” he stated.
The pandemic saved Montana residents within the state, and he stated they discovered some gems they may not have found with out that additional push.
Plenty of parks in Montana get excessive visitation whether or not it is throughout the pandemic or not, Doyle stated, like water-based parks together with Flathead Lake. It’s the most important freshwater physique west of the Mississippi with seven parks, together with a 2,000-acre island.
The place the park system has seen a giant leap in guests is in day use cultural and historic parks, corresponding to First Peoples Buffalo Leap State Park, which is critical to 13 tribes throughout the western United States and is simply south of Nice Falls.
Persons are visiting parks that they may have thought of off the crushed path, like Bannack State Park, which is Montana’s first territorial capital.
“It is an unbelievable ghost city with over 100 buildings you may nonetheless stroll in on Predominant Road,” Doyle stated.
Guests can dive into the tradition and the historical past of the state at these websites.
The fireplace season didn’t impression something throughout the first six months of the yr. The final time the park system had a foul fireplace season was in 2017, throughout which it had dips in day guests. Smoke did have an effect on folks going to swim or go on a hike.
“However our campsite reservation program continued to remain actually sturdy throughout these occasions as a result of there may be immense worth in that, particularly folks coming from out of state,” he stated.
In 2017, if somebody canceled a campsite reservation due to smoke, inside 24 hours that reservation can be snapped up by another person. It does impression visitation, he stated. In comparison with 20 years in the past, Doyle stated he thinks much more dialog is going down concerning the impacts of recreation when the air high quality is poor.
What 2020 confirmed Montanans, particularly workers, is that establishing public well being and security protocols and excessive visitation measures allows the park system to deal with giant numbers of tourists whether or not it’s throughout a pandemic or not, he stated.
“Clearly the security of our workers and the security of our visiting public is our primary precedence and all the time might be. However it was an actual alternative to see that we all know if our visitation continues to extend, we do have a number of methods in place to mitigate that at completely different parks,” Doyle stated.
These measures included capping the variety of automobiles getting into parks on sure days and through sure excessive visitation occasions. Social distancing and ticketed entry are different measures getting used.
“It is not a simple factor to be working in a local weather with excessive visitation and a number of these parks, particularly those which have vital tenting alternatives. It is sort of like a city that springs up for 4 or 5 months of the yr,” Doyle stated.