Despite the negative impact on the economy nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor recreation in Wyoming, and specifically the State Parks, have proven to be not only popular destinations, but also a major economic contributor to the state’s tourism economy and a vitally important asset for people to improve their physical and mental health.
Wyoming’s State Parks system-wide have proven to be popular opportunities for outdoor recreation and a healthy social distancing alternative. While many industries closed due to the pandemic, fishing, boating, hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation opportunities were still available at Wyoming’s State Parks resulting in increased visitation.
“We’re proud that in spite of the pandemic, we’ve been able to contribute to the tourism industry and the state’s economy,” Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Director Darin Westby said. “We were in a unique situation in that we didn’t need to completely close our venues and things like camping were closed only for a short time. We plan to continue to provide Wyoming’s residents and visitors with a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities.”
During April and May, Wyoming’s State Parks saw over 575,000 visitors, approximately 160 percent increase over the five-year average of 225,000. These numbers began to accumulate much sooner than Memorial Day weekend, which is traditionally considered the beginning of the summer travel season.
“It is no surprise that people have been ready to get outdoors and enjoy the recreational opportunities available at our state parks, particularly during COVID-19, when many indoor activities have been limited,” said Chris Floyd, Manager of the State Office of Outdoor Recreation. “During the pandemic, Wyoming’s wide-open spaces provide plenty of room for recreationalists to keep their distance from others and stay relatively safe from the virus. We’ve heard from many of our visitors that the ability to visit our parks has been critical to their physical and mental well-being.”
Most of these visitors were people using the park for day-use activities since the parks were closed to camping from March 30 through May 15. Since reopening to camping, Wyoming’s State Parks weekend occupancy rates ranged from 89 to 98 percent, which is exceptionally high for this time of year.
The higher than normal visitation numbers is a trend that is expected to continue through the summer as motorhome and travel trailer rental site “RVShare” has reported a 1,000 percent increase in nationwide bookings since April 1, and dealers report increased sales of approximately 40 percent nationwide. Of course, RVing, camping and outdoor recreation go hand-in-hand.
“The demand for outdoor recreation right now is at an all-time high in Wyoming and has the potential to help the state rebound from the COVID-19 crisis and other economic challenges,” said Floyd. “As long as the virus remains a threat, the value of outdoor recreation will continue to grow as people seek safe places to spend quality time with their families outside of their homes.”
The Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources now provides additional tourism and educational opportunities with the state’s historic sites reopening on May 29, as well as the Wyoming State Museum and State Archives on June 9.