Eye on KELOLAND: Reconnecting with nature


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota state parks and recreation areas welcomed more than 8-million visitors in 2020, an increase of nearly 30% over 2019. The timing of the increase is not a coincidence, as people stepped outdoors to provide a temporary escape from COVID-19.

South Dakota parks experienced a surge in numbers in 2020.

“We had an excellent year. We saw a lot of people go into our parks for both day use and camping,” South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks communications manager Nick Harrington said.

More than 380,000 visitors connected with nature, while practicing social distancing, by camping at one of South Dakota’s 13 state parks and 43 recreation areas.

“There’s no better place to stay six feet away than when we’re out fishing, hiking. COVID or no COVID, I don’t want to be within six feet of people when I’m out enjoying the outdoors anyways,” Harrington said with a laugh.

Harrington says families were forced to step back from their day-to-day lives and liked what they discovered.

“Baseball, softball, all the summer activities, school activities that people have, we didn’t have that last year and it allowed people to reconnect with the outdoors and I think now that they’ve made that reconnection we’re going to see them keep coming back for more,” Harrington said.

Camping doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it.

I-29 RV Supercenter is a dealership in Tea that opened its doors in November, 2019, just months before the pandemic.

“We had placed our orders, but when COVID hit we kind of put everything on hold just not knowing what to expect. Staffing was another big issue. We put a hiring freeze on not knowing what to expect,” I-29 RV Supercenter Director of Operations Dave Krumbach said.

The freeze didn’t last long.

“Pretty soon, May hit and the floodgates opened and they haven’t stopped since,” Krumbach said.

Krumbach expects a 30% increase in sales this year and has added inventory and staff.

“We had one sales person when the floodgates opened. This year, we have eight, so staffing was a big part of our preparation and being prepared for this season,” Krumbach said.

I-29 RV Supercenter offers new and pre-owned RV’s.

“The travel trailer bunkhouses were very, very popular,” Krumbach said.

Krumbach says they’re popular among young families.

“A lot of times they’ll start with a tent and have a bad experience, it rains and the kids are soaking wet and mom’s not happy and pretty soon they’re coming here looking to buy a camper,” Krumbach said.

“They’re making their own memories, they’re getting out, they’re starting their own traditions, it’s going to be a great time for them as they explore everything we have to offer in the state,” Harrington said.

James Walker made the 800-mile trek from Central Arkansas to buy this 2002 Lance Truck Camper.

“A used Lance camper is really hard to find a good one, and I found one here,” Arkansas resident James Walker said.

Walker is retired military after serving nearly 50 years in the Army. He says he’s seen the world and now does most of his camping close to home.

“Arkansas is a natural state, rivers, lakes, fishing and hunters paradise really,” Walker said.

And much like South Dakota, the parks are busy.

“All the campgrounds are full and have been the whole time except for when we were closed,” Walker said.

Inventory is strong, but with buyers like Walker out there, Krumbach says if you see something you like, be ready to buy.

“If you know it’s getting all the check marks in the box, you’ve got to act quickly because the chances it’s going to be there next week or even a lot of times next day is very unlikely so when you find the right camper you’ve got to move quickly,” Krumbach said.

Whatever you’re driving or towing, Harrington says don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path and explore South Dakota.

“You can get away from those crowds and really go to some of those lesser known areas and still have a top-notch experience and that’s something that we’re very proud of and I encourage people to get out and check out those parks they might not be familiar with because you might find your new favorite spot,” Harrington said.

Click HERE if you’d like to purchase a park entrance license or make a camping reservation in South Dakota.

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