RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Looking ahead to tourist season in 2021, National Parks and tourism organizations in the state are looking forward to making up what they lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many businesses, national parks, and organizations across the nation were negatively affected by the pandemic, Custer State Park says otherwise.
“We kind of prepared ourselves that this was going to be a down year for us, but it wasn’t,” Kobee Stalder, Visitor Services Manager, said.
In fact, compared to previous years, the 2020 visitor numbers for the park were record-breaking.
“We actually saw about 2.1 million visitors this year when we usually average between 1.8 and 1.9 so it was a pretty good increase for us to see. Then, our camping numbers were also record breaking,” Stalder said.
Kobee Stalder, the visitor services manager, says the park is hopeful 2021 will be even better.
“We learned that people got a real connection with the outdoors again. Since the parks were open, they came out, they went fishing again, they had a picnic again, they went for a hike again and I think that really connected them with the outdoors as a whole so I think that’s going to be a big positive for us moving forward because now you are starting to see those users come back and use the park again,” Stalder said.
However, Wind Cave National Park saw less visitor traffic here at its visitor center.
Back in June of 2019, Wind Cave’s elevators, which allowed visitors in and out of the cave, were shut down.
“Our visitation was definitely down. Without the cave having people able to go in, we had a front desk set up in front of the visitor center so when people came in we could help them plan their stay outside but it was definitely a low visitation summer as compared to a normal summer,” Tom Farrell, Chief of Interpretation, said.
With the new year and vaccines on the way, Wind Cave is also hopeful for this coming tourism season.
“We’re preparing to have a very busy summer season, we’re looking forward to it but we still have to keep federal guidelines in place to provide for the safety for the visitors and employees,” Farrell said.
Not too far from Wind Cave in Rapid City, visitor revenue was also down.
“As we entered 2020 we were just feeling like it was going to be the best year in the visitor industry so we were a little disappointed that COVID did impact our numbers,” Julie Jensen, CEO of Visit Rapid City, said.
Julie Jensen, the CEO of Visit Rapid City, says the numbers were not as bad as many other parts of the country. She is hopeful 2021’s recovery will be quick.
“Again because of the great outdoors. I think the fact that vaccines are being administered pretty well, that maybe by spring and summer we will see some really nice growth in the industry,” Jensen said.
One of South Dakota’s most popular attractions, Mount Rushmore, saw about 1.7 million visitors in 2020. It normally sees 2.1 million.
“Of course we were dealing with COVID and social distancing and giving everybody space. We still had a great visitation last year,” Maureen McGee-Ballinger, Chief for Interpretation, said.
With a two year construction project scheduled to be finished by summer, Maureen McGee-Ballinger, Chief for Interpretation, says the future looks bright.
“We’ll have lots of open space, all our buildings will be available, and I expect we may very well reach 3 million visitors this year,” McGee-Ballinger said.