BLACK HILLS, S.D. — As many were shut-in during the COVID-19 pandemic, some found their way out.
Outdoor enthusiasts used wilderness areas, like Custer State Park, as a solid social distancing method. Park officials say this led to a 15 percent increase in camping units and 12 percent increase in annual license purchases.
“I think people really reconnected with nature this year, really got back into hiking, picnicking, camping,” said Kobee Stalder, the Visitor Services Program Manager for Custer State Park. “When things are are locked down and there’s not a lot of things to do indoors, I think a lot of people looked to the outdoors and that’s why the recreation part was huge.”
Stalder also said that the number of fishing licenses sold has seen an increase from 2019.
While some neighboring states shut down their state and national parks, Stalder says that by keeping the state’s parks open, more people took advantage of outdoor activities.
“I think that’s been one of the main reasons that we have seen that increase in annual passes and visitation and camping, because one we were allowed to operate normally, we were able to stay open during the pandemic,” Stalder said. “We just wanted people to be able to have that escape, come out for a picnic or even take one of our scenic drives, look at the wildlife.”
People also found their way out to the outdoors by way of motorized trails. The U.S. Forest Service sold more than 30,000 permits for the Black Hills National Forest, 50 percent higher than 2019.
“You know over the last year, with COVID and all that, I’m guessing people just wanted to get outside, and the Black Hills has a great venue to offer for OHV’s; so the trail system and the road system in the Black Hills is really a great place to go,” said Scott Jacobson, the Public Affairs Officer for the Black Hills National Forest.
Jacobson also says that it’s important for ATV/UTV riders to wear a helmet, make sure they have a map, and be aware of where they plan to travel.
Using the outdoors as a way to distance themselves through a global pandemic.