PIERRE, S.D. — More people enjoyed the South Dakota state parks last year than ever before. The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) reports a record year in 2015, with increases in both park visitation and camping.
GFP officials attribute the banner year to an ongoing shift in the way people use the parks.
“Over the last several years, we’ve definitely seen park use expand into new areas,” said Doug Hofer, state parks and recreation director. “People no longer only think of the parks as just a Friday-Saturday camping trip during the summer.
“Now, park visitors take in events and activities year-round. They’re trying out new parks and staying longer,” he explained. “More people are camping in the spring and fall and during the week. It’s great to see folks take full advantage of all the parks have to offer.”
Park visitation was up 4 percent in 2015 over a record-setting 2014. Likewise, the number of camping nights broke 2014’s record by 9 percent, with an additional 25,000 nights of camping.
Hofer says that people are recognizing the opportunities provided by the shoulder seasons, weekdays and lesser used parks.
“The fall and spring seasons usage are up and those parks that had available weekend occupancy during the summer in previous years saw a big jump in use this year,” said Hofer.
Introducing new people to the parks also played a role. The department’s Go Fourth program gave each fourth grader in the state a free family day pass to a South Dakota state park. Over 1,000 of the passes were redeemed and the department plans to offer the program again in 2016.
This year will bring even more opportunities for park visitors, including special events throughout the year, the opening of the new visitor center at Custer State Park and enhancement projects beginning at the state’s newest state park, Good Earth at Blood Run.
Even with limited park improvements in place, Good Earth saw over 30,000 visitors in 2015, a 20 percent increase over last year. The park, which is located on the edge of Sioux Falls, draws in visitors with its hiking trails, wildlife, Native American history and natural landscape. The planned enhancements, including a visitor center, will make the culturally significant site a destination for school groups and families across the region.
“Good Earth is a prime example of how diverse park use has become,” said Hofer. “I’d encourage people to get out and try something new in 2016. Whether it’s trying a new activity, camping in a new park or taking a hike during the winter, there’s a lot to do in the parks.”
SOURCE: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks press release