Camping Off 4.4% in S. Dakota State Parks
Visitation at South Dakota state parks increased slightly while camping declined slightly in the face of higher gas prices and economic uncertainty in 2008.
The 59 state parks and recreation areas managed by the Game, Fish and Parks (GF&P) Department drew 6,474,000 visitors last year, an increase of 1.3% over 2007, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
The division reported 223,044 camping units in 2008, down 4.4% from 233,200 in 2007. Each tent, RV or camper that spends one night in a state park is considered one camping unit, no matter how many people are at the campsite.
“We really were apprehensive going into the year with $4 gas staring us in the face and what might happen,” said Doug Hofer, director of parks within the GF&P. “It obviously had its impact, but it probably did more to affect travel patterns than it did whether people went out and used the parks.”
People saved gas money by visiting parks closer to home or, if venturing farther, stayed longer, he said.
Hofer said the department’s focus in the coming year is driven by budget constraints throughout state government and means taking care of what’s in place rather than expansion.
Park use remains strong as evidenced by 10-year growth in camping units, he said.
“This (2008) is the first year that we didn’t actually see an increase but we really didn’t see a decrease either; we just held our own and I think given the high gas prices that that’s an achievement in its own right," Hofer said. "But the fact still remains we have not seen any reduction in demand for camping for quite a number of years and it just seems to continue to grow.”
A 2007 survey showed that South Dakotans accounted for 57% of the visitation to all state parks.