Montana’s great outdoors have never been so popular.
Along with record visitation at Glacier National Park, Montana’s state parks enjoyed a banner year in 2014, attracting more than 2.25 million people.
The state parks system set a new record for visitation for the second year in a row. Attendance at the 55 pubic sites over the last 12 months was 3 percent above the previous year’s total and 29 percent over the 10-year average, according to year-end data released this week. The park system also enjoyed increased participation among volunteers, who dedicated nearly 43,000 hours to state park operations and programs.
“The growth in our visitation and volunteer support is very exciting,” said Chas Van Genderen, administrator for Montana State Parks. “Since 2002, annual park use has increased by a million visits. This trend has led to greater demands for staffing and services in our parks. Our volunteers are vital to meeting those demands. We thank the public for their ongoing support, and look forward to continued growth for years to come.”
Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls drew the most visitors last year with 316,483. Lake Elmo State Park in Billings was second with 163,265, followed by Cooney State Park in Roberts (160,070), Spring Meadow Lake State Park in Helena (141,727) and Wayfarers State Park in Bigfork (133,473).
The Northwest Region surrounding Kalispell had the second most visitors among the state’s five regions. There were 566,946 people who visited a state park in this region, a 4.5 percent increase over 2013. The North Central region near Great Falls attracted 593,156, a 1.5 percent decrease.
Among the local visitors in the Kalispell region, 80 percent were residents, according to state data. The visitation was 84 percent day-use and 16 percent overnight campers.
Lone Pine State Park outside Kalispell saw a 14 percent bump in visitors, drawing 88,495 people. Logan State Park near Libby had a 30 percent boost and drew 25,917 people.
“There’s going to be some fluctuation from year to year based on local conditions. But when you see 14-30 percent increases, that’s significant,” said Dave Landstrom, regional manager for Montana State Parks in Kalispell.
“To me that’s just indicative of the demand and need for good recreation amenities immediately adjacent to towns.”
Landstrom also noted the 7 percent increase at Wayfarers as a likely sign of heightened visitation in the so-called shoulder seasons.
“That’s one of the most heavily visited sites in the state. The summers are always busy, but I think that a lot of that increase has resulted from better shoulder seasons.”
Renovations will begin this spring at Wayfarers, he said. Last summer the parks department approved several improvements for the site, including a new public station with public restrooms the south side of the park’s entrance road. In addition, crews will also convert the existing, outdated Harry Horn public restrooms to a seasonal park host site and will enlarge the existing park maintenance area in its current location.
The construction won’t disrupt camping or day-use areas, Landstrom said.
Click here to view the year-end report.