PIERRE, S.D. (KELO AM) – According to year-end numbers recently compiled by the SD Department of Game, Fish and Parks, South Dakota’s most-visited state parks gained popularity in 2013.
The agency said both visitation and camping in the state parks reached all-time highs last year, topping records set in 2012.
The biggest draws were Custer State Park in the Black Hills and Lewis and Clark Recreation Area near Yankton. The two parks also set their own records for the number of visitors, at 1.9 and 1.2 million, respectively. Both parks are major draws for out-of-state visitors.
Custer and Lewis and Clark comprised nearly 40 percent of the 7.8 million park visitors statewide. Camping numbers also increased across the state, up 3.2 percent over 2012.
“A lot of people took to the outdoors in 2013,” said Doug Hofer, director of GFP’s Division of Parks and Recreation. “We saw increases in mid-week and shoulder season use, both in camping and day-use. Plus, it was a great year for fishing, which boosted use especially at the Missouri River parks.”
Hofer said that parks across the state were busy, including South Dakota’s newest park, Good Earth State Park at Blood Run, located near Sioux Falls. Good Earth, which officially became a state park in July, attracted over 20,000 visitors in its first year.
“Every time I stopped at Good Earth, there were other vehicles in the parking lot – and not just in the summer, but throughout the fall,” said Hofer. “And it’s just getting started. For 20,000 people to visit the park, without any facilities or services yet, indicates a bright future.”
Hofer said he expects the state parks to do just as well in 2014. The year has already started off strong with a number of popular events in January, including 10 hikes on New Year’s Day, several snowshoe hikes and ice fishing tournaments.
Reservations for campsites in Custer State Park, which are available one year in advance, indicate strong camping numbers as well.
Reservations at other state parks are available 90 days before arrival. Feb. 15 is the first day to make camping reservations for a May 16 arrival, which is Open House Weekend in the South Dakota State Parks. Reservations can be made at www.campsd.com.