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'Make your reservations early': How the pandemic impacted Inland Northwest state park visits

Visitations so far in 2021 have increased nearly 14% compared to 2020.

SPOKANE, Wash. — When the pandemic closed gyms, grounded most air travel and brought vacations to a screeching halt, a lot of people turned to the outdoors for an escape.

Things like new bike sales and visitations to parks soared.

Area manager for the five state parks in the Inland Northwest Diana Dupuis has noticed a trend in park visits since the pandemic started.

”I think that some people would think that there would be maybe a downtick after things started to open after COVID, but we haven’t seen that. We’ve seen the uses continuing to increase," Dupuis said.

The state’s own data shows nearly 175,000 more visitors went to Riverside State Park in 2020 than in 2015. Dupuis said the first six months of this year are showing no signs of slowing down.

It's not just Riverside. The state’s data shows there were 4.7 million more visitors to Washington State Parks in 2020 compared to 2015.

Mt. Spokane State Park saw a nearly 200% increase in visitations in the last five years. From nearly 166,000 visitors in 2015 to nearly 462,000 last year.

The Centennial Trail State Park saw a similar trend. Nearly a half-million more people went to the park last year compared to five years ago.

Dupuis said there are multiple factors to the increase in visits. The pandemic prompted more people to take to the outdoors to benefit their physical and mental well-being. There are also more people moving to Washington.

”More people are moving into the area which is increasing the visitation and I think these parks have fallen under the radar a little bit. When I first moved here and talked to people, they didn’t even know Riverside existed and it’s in their own back yard,” Dupuis said.

Visitations so far in 2021 have increased nearly 14% compared to 2020, so the trend continues. More visitors mean more people buying discover passes or paying camping fees which creates revenue for state parks.

The state legislature increased the parks’ operating budget and capital budget when they approved the state’s budget earlier this year. According to spokesperson Toni Weyman Droscher, the operating budget for 2021-2023 is $208.4 million, while the budget for 2020 was $88.7 million.

Park rangers said they feel they are being given resources to handle the influx in visitors.

Here are the total number of visitations over the last five years.

WA State Park Visitations

2015 – 32,784,159
2016 – 35,923,558
2017 – 36,261,352
2018 – 37,452,706
2019 – 36,033,338
2020 – 37,549,238

Centennial Trail State Park

2015 – 1,497,012
2016 – 1,523,627
2017 – 1,723,436
2018 – 1,636,437
2019 – 1,702,692
2020 – 1,959,415

Columbia Plateau Trail North

2015 – 150,814
2016 – 161,173
2017 – 181,795
2018 – 188,619
2019 – 163,845
2020 – 217,880

Crawford State Park

2015 – 6,465
2016 – 7,308
2017 – 6,523
2018 – 5,771
2019 – 7,418
2020 – 0

Mt. Spokane State Park

2015 – 165,832
2016 – 159,960
2017 – 238,207
2018 – 209,559
2019 – 387,593
2020 – 461,845

Riverside State Park

2015 – 743,924
2016 – 772,703
2017 – 967,741
2018 – 1,032,576
2019 – 1,004,492
2020 – 918,675

To learn more about the Washington State Parks or to make a reservation, visit their website.