Record Starts for Two National Parks Out West

June 3, 2013 by · Comments Off on Record Starts for Two National Parks Out West 

Summer got off to a record start at Bryce Canyon and Wind Cave national parks, where holiday weekend crowds set records, National Parks Traveler reported.

At Wind Cave in South Dakota, even though the weather was cool and blustery the park recorded the highest Memorial Day Weekend visitation ever, according to park officials. The parking lot was overflowing as rangers lead 62 tours through the cave to 2,260 visitors.

“When we have bad weather, our visitation goes up,” said park Superintendent Vidal Davila. “Whatever the weather, rain or shine, we have something to offer. On the surface, we have over 28,000 acres to explore, and with all this rain the park looks great. Below the surface, you can tour the sixth-longest cave in the world regardless of the weather.”

At Bryce Canyon in Utah, though the park has the smallest land area of the state’s five national parks, it consistently ranks second among these parks in annual visitation (Zion National Park leads the way).

During the long Memorial Day Weekend, the park counted more than 4,000 visitors per day. That level of visitation has been achieved previously only on the day before and day of the annual solar eclipse last May. This influx of visitors forced Bryce Canyon staff to periodically close viewpoint parking areas to all but shuttle buses for extended periods of time, as space to park private vehicles became unavailable.

On Sunday afternoon, the congestion became so heavy that the decision was made to close the park entrance to private cars for approximately one hour. Visitors were still able to enter the park using the shuttle transportation system, which recorded 6,500 boardings compared to an average summer day of 4,000 boardings.

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State to Run National Park Campground?

March 14, 2013 by · Comments Off on State to Run National Park Campground? 

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard is asking the National Park Service to let the state run the campground at Wind Cave National Park, The Associated Press reported.

The federal agency has said that the 64-site Elk Mountain Campground would be closed through the 2013 season because of budget cuts.

Daugaard says in a letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis that the state “would be pleased” to operate the campground this year.

The Republican governor says he believes the state could make money on the facility because 6,600 people camped there last year.

Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune from South Dakota had earlier sent a letter to Jarvis questioning whether the park service is playing politics by intentionally trying to make the cuts more visible to the public.


Sequester Cut Warrants Senator’s Chiding

March 13, 2013 by · Comments Off on Sequester Cut Warrants Senator’s Chiding 

An RV camped at the Elk Mountain Campground in Wind Cave National Park. The park decided to close the campground for the summer.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is asking if the National Park Service is “playing politics” by closing Wind Cave National Park’s 64-site Elk Mountain Campground.

Thune sent a letter Monday (March 11) to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis questioning whether the NPS is playing politics in deciding to close the facility, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, reported.

The NPS decision to close the Elk Mountain Campground came following the implementation of sequestration and, according to the senator, appears to substantiate reports that the NPS is intentionally trying to make the cuts more visible to the public.

Thune asked for information from the NPS regarding its analysis that closing the Elk Mountain Campground, which generates revenue for the park, and reducing visitor center hours is more cost-effective than making targeted cuts elsewhere.

“It seems difficult to say with a straight face that completely eliminating a source of revenue for the National Park Service is a smart, targeted cut,” Thune said in a release from his office. “Instead of cuts that reduce wasteful and duplicative spending, the administration’s politically calculated cuts are targeting facilities like the campground that actually serve as a revenue source for the park. It appears NPS is just another agency following the White House’s lead in trying to find the cuts that can trigger a press release before looking to internal cost-saving measures that are less newsworthy.”

Wind Cave National Park Superintendent Vidal Davila said budget cuts forced the park to close the campground.

“The sequestration has forced us to make some tough decisions that will impact visitors to Wind Cave National Park,” Davila said in a park statement. “People will have fewer opportunities to tour Wind Cave, the park’s primary resource, as a result of less staff.”

Davila said two summer maintenance employees and interpretive rangers who present evening campfire programs will not be needed now unless the campground reopens.

Wind Cave National Park, located 10 miles north of Hot Springs at the southwestern edge of South Dakota, was formed in 1903 as the seventh national park. Its name comes from the air that escapes from the cave openings as weather changes.

In 2011, 6,600 visitors used the campground, and 1,700 visitors participated in campfire programs.

South Dakota Notes Strong Tourism Season

September 10, 2012 by · Comments Off on South Dakota Notes Strong Tourism Season 

Mount Rushmore

Boosted by a gradually and steadily improving economy, the summer tourism season in South Dakota showed strong increases from 2011, not only in the Black Hills, but across the state, the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal reported.

Ashley Worth, marketing and research analyst for the South Dakota Department of Tourism, said that throughout the state, visitation at private attractions are up anywhere from 8 percent to 25 percent.

“We’ve seen a great flow of visitors this summer,” Worth said. “We saw large increases in the number of visitors to the various state and national parks. Things began leveling off in July to the numbers we saw last year but visitation is still up over year-to-date.”

Year-to-date, more than 2 million visitors have frequented South Dakota’s national parks — Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Badlands and Minuteman Missile.

“Those figures are up 8 percent over the prior year through July.” Worth said. “Mount Rushmore alone has experienced more than 1.3 million visitors year-to-date, an increase of 8 percent through July.”

Year-to-date, more than 4.6 million visitors have visited South Dakota’s state parks, an increase of 24.7 percent from 2011 through July.

“For example, more than 1 million visitors have frequented Custer State Park year to date,” Worth said. “Those figures alone are up 8 percent through July.”

Worth added that information requests for the state are up 10.3 percent through July, with nearly 100,000 vacation guide requests fulfilled.

“National parks numbers are provided by the National Park Service, state parks figures by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and information requests are tracked by the South Dakota Department of Tourism,” she said.

Hotel demand, one other strong economic indicator of tourism success, also had strong showings across the state through July.

Hotel demand for South Dakota is up 7.5 percent over the prior year, through July, which amounts to approximately 2.7 million room nights.

Hotel Demand for the Black Hills Badlands & Lakes Region is up 9.5 percent, through July.

Black Hills Badlands and Lakes Association President and CEO Nort Johnson said the Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes index is showing an overall 7.76 percent increase in the tourism economy over 2011.

“We blend hotel occupancy, gaming handle, traffic, park attendance and tourism tax collection with weighted values to arrive at our indexed measure,” Johnson said. “Strong marketing campaigns by Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes, State of South Dakota Tourism, local CVBs, chambers and BID districts have had good consumer response. Favorable weather patterns early, decent fuel prices and outstanding wildfire suppression efforts are also making a difference this year. With 30-plus headliner events in the region in September and October we’re optimistic about the potential for the fall shoulder season as well.”

Hotel demand for Deadwood is up 11.8 percent, through July, while the Deadwood gaming handle is up 9.8 percent over prior year, through July.

Deadwood Chamber of Commerce executive director George Milos said the positive swing in the numbers can be felt city-wide.

“The numbers are very encouraging thus far this year,” Milos said. “Our indicators are inquiries, web traffic, taxable sales, room sales and gaming numbers, all of which are up so far in 2012. Barring any huge spikes in gas prices or major events with the economy this could be one of the better summers we’ve had in several years. Although we can’t be 100 percent accurate we believe approximately 1.5 million people pass through Deadwood each year and a good 60 percent of those numbers are June through September.”