South Dakota Campground Reservations Up 20%
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department officials said Friday (May 14) that campground reservations are 20% above last year’s record numbers, with campers reserving their spots earlier — and for longer periods of time, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
“Why? I wish we knew,” said Bob Schneider, assistant director for the state Division of Parks and Recreation. “I think last year, a lot of people wanted to stay close. They weren’t taking that big trip. I suspect a continuation of the economic woes will give us another good year, but we have good parks.”
Last year, the state bucked the odds when it came to tourism. It posted a 1.2% hike in visitor numbers as tourist numbers fell by 7.1% nationally, according to a study by IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting and consulting company based in Lexington, Mass.
Tourism spending as a whole totaled $963 million in South Dakota last year, a decrease of 0.4% from 2008, according to numbers supplied by the Department of Tourism and State Development. But the sting of the decrease was easier to take, given that tourist spending was down 14% nationally.
“We think camping will maintain, right through the year,” said Joey Hockett, outdoors spokesman for the state Department of Tourism. “The indications are, people from outside the state, and our residents, still think South Dakota is a friendly, affordable state.”
Barring a continued upheaval in travel because of the economy, everything looks as if it will tilt South Dakota’s way this summer for travel, tourism and camping. For the second time this decade, every boat ramp is open on Lake Oahe. Lakes are full.
“Last year, we were firing an all eight cylinders, and we have the same situation this year,” Schneider said. “Maybe it was the long, hard winter. There was a lot of snow, and a lot of people had a lot of pent-up desire to get outside.”
For those who might wanted to test out a state park, the park system hosted its free state parks weekend this past weekend. During those three days, people could get into any state park free, although usual camping fees still applied.
It was also a free-fishing weekend, when anyone can dip a line without having to buy a license.
“We advertise nationally, but that free weekend really sends a message to the in-state people to go out and enjoy their public lands,” Hockett said. “This allows people to check it out, without having to invest a lot of money to do so.”
While the state markets heavily to its own, visits are up from all over the U.S., Hockett said.
“We’re popular with Canadians,” he said. “And other pockets that don’t touch us, like Illinois, South Carolina and Tennessee.”
The state’s varied geography helps draw visitors, officials said.
“What we’re finding is that a lot of people are linking an activity to a campground,” Hockett said. “Whether it’s bike riding, or kayaking a stretch of river or other body of water, or rock climbing — that’s been big for us, not only in the Black Hills but at Palisades State Park near Sioux Falls — there’s a lot to do for people who stay at our campgrounds.”
Another factor, Schneider said, is the state’s focus on a new backpack program that invites South Dakota children to venture outdoors.
Earlier this year, the state gave away backpacks filled with fun stuff to encourage outdoor exploration to 180 child-care providers across the state. It’s part of the national Children in Nature movement, something that’s very important to GF&P officials to grow the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.
“We’re starting to see kids getting their parents fired up about the outdoors,” Schneider said. “We’ve made a big push to focus on kids and the outdoors.”