State parks attracting visitors and their money during COVID-19

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In spite of the pandemic, because of the pandemic, or because the weather was better?

Campsites and state park and recreation areas have been busier so far in 2020 than in 2019, according to data from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.

The GFP said June visitation is up 13% over June of 2019 and up 30% year to date for the end of June. Camping is up 14% for June over June of 2019 and up 26% year to date for the end of June.

The increase in visitors was noted in April when the GFP reported a 50% increase in visitors over 2019.

Entrance to state parks was free in April.

GFP officials have said better weather in 2020 and the pandemic drew people to state parks earlier this year.

Bad weather include rain and floods kept many visitors away in 2019, GFP officials said. The state reported that nearly every category for entrances and camping was down. Sales dropped 4% overall.

Year to date revenue increased by 35% or about $3 million from 2019 to 2020.

Revenue was at about $12.9 million year to date compared to about $9.6 million in 2019.

The revenue increased because of more visitors but the state also increased park entrance fees this year. Day passes are $8 instead of $6 and annual passes are $36 instead of $30. Fees for camping also increased.

About 30,000 more campers stayed at state campgrounds over last year. The total for June was about 10,000 more. The year to date increase is 26% while the month increase was 14% compared to June 2019.

South Dakota adjusted its campgrounds for COVID-19. Reservations made for April were honored but none were taken that month. Campgrounds began to open more fully in May. Some facilities at state parks and recreation areas did not open fully until after mid-May.

State parks and recreation areas in nearby Iowa and Minnesota were also open in April but those states also had varied campground openings.

The Minnesota Department of Resources opened 75 state campgrounds on May 22 and more were opened after June 1.

Iowa opened state campgrounds on May 8 and began to take reservations on May 11.

All districts in the state had increased visitors and campers, except for District 16 of Custer State Park which declined by about 27,000 visitors.

State areas in southeastern South Dakota said in early May that April’s visitor tally carried into May.

Jeff Van Meeteren of the GFP said the Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area campground had 321 campers on Saturday, May 2. The campground would have 200 campers for that weekend in a typical year, he said.

If the sale of annual passes is any indication, visitors will keep coming back to state parks in the future.

Annual pass sales generated $1,383,371 in revenue year to date compared to $840,194 in the prior year.

About half of that came from sales in June as $657,636 in annual passes were sold. That’s an increase of 67% in revenue.

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