State park use sets record in ’10

Officials at a recent Game, Fish and Parks Commission meeting announced that the number of visitors to South Dakota state parks in 2010 reached a record 7.9 million.

State Parks Director Doug Hofer said overall visitation increased by 1.5 percent. Overnight camping units were up by 2.5 percent.

State parks have had an increase in visitation each of the last six years, including the record-shattering year of 2009, when visitation climbed 7 percent over the previous year.

Hofer said the parks have flourished despite the economic downturn the past couple years, and the impact can be seen across the state.

�Families continue to find camping and other recreational activities in state parks to be good values in these slow economic times,� Hofer said. �With nearly 8 million visitors recorded statewide last year, South Dakota�s state park system is one of the reasons that tourism in South Dakota has been one of the strongest parts of the state�s economy in recent years.�

Hofer said the visitation increase is especially significant because of the number of weather-related issues that state parks faced in 2010. Floods, windstorms and hailstorms damaged trees and facilities in many parks across the state.

Fortunately, other than a six-week flood period on Lake Francis Case, park staff were able to restore and provide services after storm events and kept parks open to the public with minimal disruption, Hofer said.

State park workers put in many hours under harsh conditions to ensure the safety of campers and restore service after the storms. Local volunteers also helped in many instances. Without the extra effort by park employees and local citizens, Hofer said campgrounds and other park facilities would have been closed much longer.

The most popular park in 2010 was Custer State Park in the Black Hills, with more than 1.8 million visitors. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area near Yankton followed with nearly 1 million visitors.

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