Officials with the North Dakota and Minnesota state park systems said visitations have been trending upward the past few years, though they said fickle weather can turn a promising summer season into a snoozer, Prairie Business magazine reported.
In 2008, there were 815,185 visitors counted at North Dakota’s 13 state parks. But from 2010 to 2013, visits topped 1 million a year, with a high of 1,111,250 in 2012, Parks and Recreation Department records show.
Those are numbers that hadn’t been seen since the early 1990s, said Gordon Weixel, a Parks and Recreation spokesman.
“It’s coming back,” he said.
Some North Dakota parks saw visits dip in 2011, but that was weather-related, Weixel said.
Nearly every park had a problem with flooding.
Thanks to the “staycations” that became popular during the Great Recession, Minnesota saw state park visits hit nearly 9.2 million in 2009 and top 9.5 million in 2010.
But a three-week state government shutdown in summer 2011 dropped Minnesota state park visits to 7.77 million, records show.
Visits have bounced back, with nearly 9 million flocking to Minnesota parks in 2012 and 8.7 million in 2013.
Whether this year sees similar numbers depends on if the cool, wet weather gives way to a hot, dry summer and long, pleasant fall.
For example, at Maplewood State Park, like other parks across Minnesota, some campsites will be unusable until standing water dries up, and a couple of roads had to be re-graded due to erosion.
Pent-up demand to get outside means park visits have come in pulses this year.
“If the weather is nice, boy, people are just coming out,” said Chris Weir-Koetter, strategic program manager for parks and trails in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ northwest region.
“I was at Buffalo River (last) Monday and the pool was full. It was in the 80s,” she said. But Thursday, there was rain and “the pool was empty.”
Demands of the working world also play into people recreating closer to home, Weir-Koetter said.
Weekends are full. Weekdays? Not so much.
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