More than a million more people visited Wyoming state parks so far this year compared to last. The Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources reports those record breaking numbers are continuing into the fall.
"Although September is generally considered a shoulder season for Wyoming's State Parks, this year nearly 550,000 visitors camped, fished, hiked and biked during the month," according to a news release from the department.
So far in 2020, more than 4.8 million people have visited a Wyoming state park. During the same period in 2019, more than 3.1 million had visited. That's a 34 percent increase, according to the department.
Gary Schoene, public information officer for the parks department, said they believe much of the increase, especially in the southern part of Wyoming, is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We had a lot of people coming up here just for day-use. Just to get a change of scenery and come up and do something. Most things were closed nationwide, so we were a type of venue where you could come enjoy yourself, you could socially distance," he said.
This year, campsites have been consistently at capacity, particularly over the Fourth of July weekend where state park campsites were completely full.
From April through September, some state parks across Wyoming saw more than 100 percent increase in visitors. That's even with parks being only open to day-use in April and half of May.
Some parks that have seen the highest increases in use are Curt Gowdy State Park with visitor numbers up 231 percent and Boysen State Park with 241 percent above its five-year averages.
With the increase in visitors, Schoene said the department has seen some impacts, like more trash and more cleaning maintenance, but there hasn't been any reported negative impacts to the parks or infrastructure.
Schoene said while the increase in visitors has brought in some additional funds, it's not enough to help the budget difficulties.
"It's kind of a hit and miss type thing because yes, we brought in more money, but it's not going to be enough to get us through this budget crisis," he said.
Schoene said the department has seen positions cut as a result of 10 percent budget reductions. He added officials are working with the governor's office to see what next steps are necessary.
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