By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Up to $6.5 million of Wyoming’s remaining CARES Act funds will be used to fund expansions at Wyoming’s state parks and historic sites, Gov. Mark Gordon has announced.
This money will be used to add camping facilities to allow more visitors to spend more time outside, boosting the state’s tourism industry and addressing park overcrowding caused by the pandemic, Gordon said.
“Expanding outdoor recreation opportunities will benefit the state, and will provide an immediate return on investment,” Gordon said. “The public appreciated the fact that our parks remained open last year, providing a healthy option to relieve the stress of the pandemic. Strengthening our state park system is important to Wyoming’s long-term economic health as well.”
The funds will be used to increase overnight camping capacity at the state’s parks by 18% to meet the significant increase in demand Wyoming state parks have seen since 2020. A portion of the funds will also be used to expand day-use areas and add picnic shelters and parking space.
Wyoming state parks saw a 36% increase in visitation in 2020, which translated to more than 1.4 million additional visitors. Visitors exceeded capacity limits at most sites.
“As Wyoming continues to be a top outdoor destination for tourists, we are seeing campsites, lodging and other amenities nearly booked for the summer, especially throughout state parks,” said Diane Shober, executive director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “This is a great opportunity to meet summer travel demand while continuing to offer visitors and residents alike a memorable outdoor adventure.”
Wyoming state parks produce an annual economic impact of approximately $1.5 billion, according to the preliminary draft of an economic impact study from the University of Wyoming.
The increase in visitation seen last year is expected to continue in 2021 based on this season’s campsite reservations.
State Parks Director Darin Westby emphasized that the additional campsites and added day-use facilities will be added quickly to the parks to provide additional opportunities to visitors this summer. These facilities may initially be temporary, but will continue to be improved upon as additional funds become available.
“We have an amazing team and they are excited and working very hard to offer these additional campsites, developed to get people outdoors and recreating to help achieve the agency’s mission of impacting communities and enhancing lives” Westby said.