By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
From the numbers seen by the Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails staff so far this year, the state’s largest parks are on track to set a visitation record, according to Deputy Director Nick Neylon.
In an interview with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday, Neylon discussed the state’s reservation system for campsites in the parks and said a surprising number of state residents are taking advantage of the beautiful Wyoming recreation areas this summer.
While the July numbers weren’t available yet, Neylon said that early feedback shows the state’s largest parks with water (Glendo, Curt Gowdy, Boysen, Keyhole, Guernsey and Buffalo Bill) saw a 150% increase in attendance.
“I think we’re on pace to have a record year,” he said. “It’s been very hectic, very taxing on our staff. But people still want to recreate outdoors. It’s good for their physical, emotional and mental well-being.”
Many of those visitors came from within Wyoming, due largely to the fact that for a time earlier this year, out-of-state visitors were barred from purchasing day passes or reserving campsites, precautions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Since tourists couldn’t come into Wyoming, state residents decided to take advantage of the temporary downtime, Neylon said.
He also credited the state’s camping reservation system for the uptick in visitors, noting that although the reservation system was criticized by many Wyomingites at first, he’s heard much praise about it now.
“I’ve had people tell me they haven’t camped at Curt Gowdy for years because they could never get the spot they wanted,” he said. “There are still some people who don’t like the reservation system on principle, but overall, it’s been a huge success.”
Neylon added that beginning sometime in October, the parks staff will meet and discuss the positives and negatives of the reservation system, figuring out what can be improved or what should be removed.
One improvement the staff plans to make in the system soon is to add the ability to purchase day use passes on the WyoParks website. Currently, only annual passes can be purchased.
The reservation fee will also be changed soon. Until now, the fee has been $7.75 per person, which is pocketed by the reservation company, but soon the fee will be $8 for out-of-state campers and $4 for in-state visitors, Neylon said.
“I think people have come to like the reservation system more because now they can take comfort in knowing they will have a spot when they get to the site, they won’t have to spend time driving around, hunting for one,” Neylon said. “The important point is that the system, statewide, worked as we hoped it would.”