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Wyoming State Parks are expecting another busy season this year

Curt Gowdy State Park vista in winter
ClarkHarrisinTonkawaOK
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Flickr via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Curt Gowdy State Park between Cheyenne and Laramie is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, which includes biking trails that are designated as 'epic' by the International Mountain Biking Association. Increased visitation to Wyoming's state parks, historic sites, and trails is leading state officials to build additional infrastructure to accommodate more visitors.

Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites, and Trails are preparing for another season of increased visitation this year, a trend that has generally played out over the past five years according agency officials.

Due to uptick in visitation, additional infrastructure improvements are being undertaken at some popular sites.

“To kind of help with these crowds and the increased visitation we're planning on making some permanent capacity expansion projects, which means more campsites,” said Gary Schoene, public information officer with Wyoming State Parks. “We're tweaking policies a little bit too, to address no shows with reservations, which has been a problem. So, we're trying to address that a little bit better this year.”

Though visitation levels are expected to be strong, they’re not thought to surpass the figures for 2020, which due to the pandemic, increased visitation at higher levels than would normally have been expected. But even with 2021 and this year’s numbers not likely to exceed those of two years ago, there’s a long-term growth trend overall.

“We were down slightly last year, about four percent,” Schoene said. “But if you look at the five-year trend, we're expecting another big year this year. We saw 5.4 million visitors in 2021. That was a four percent decrease from 2020, but still 26 percent above the five-year average of 4.3 million.”

Other parks that are experiencing an increase in visitors have been targeted with infrastructure upgrades to cope with more visitors.

“We also used some federal CARES dollars to add temporary campsites at parks like Buffalo Bill, Boysen, Glendo [and] Keyhole. We did that last year, and we got permission this year to go ahead and make those permanent, and that will help with some of the visitation and just adding more opportunities for visitors there,” he said.

Schoene explained that just under half of visitors to Wyoming’s parks, historic sites and trails are from out-of-state. Coloradoans tend to visit Curt Gowdy and even Guernsey and Glendo State Parks are becoming increasingly popular with residents from there. Keyhole State Park is attracting more South Dakotans and Buffalo Bill State Park often attracts travelers going to or from Yellowstone. Though there was a noticeable slowdown during the heights of the pandemic, Hot Springs State Park has also attracted sizeable visitation in previous years.

Reservations for campgrounds have also proven popular. Schoene stated that approximately 97 percent of the campsites at Curt Gowdy have been claimed thus far. Biking and hiking trails are also one of the major draws.

“We've been building trails at Curt Gowdy State Park, which actually brings more people in but we're able to spread them out a little bit more so,” he said. “Last year, [at] Curt Gowdy, we had 518,000 people visit and about 60 percent of those who came to Curt Gowdy [came] just to use the trails are mountain biking trails [that] are designated as ‘epic’ by the International Mountain Biking Association.”

More visitors have translated into economic benefits for the state, which Schoene said equated to around $210 million in 2019 and which has since increased. But more people pose challenges that must be dealt with.

“Our main responsibilities are, of course resource management, and then of course, visitor safety, and then convenience, and they kind of go in that order,” he explained. “So, for getting a bunch of people in one certain area, that's a huge drain on the resource. We are trying to do things to kind of lessen that impact, just so we're not overusing the resource.”

Reservations can be made through the Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites, and Trail’s website.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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