When it comes to state parks, the Flathead Valley wins the popularity contest.
Park sites in the Kalispell region had the most visitors in the state last summer, according to data released by Montana State Parks, a division of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Despite a wet, cooler spring, roughly 287,000 people visited the 12 state-run sites in the area from May to August, a 6 percent increase from last year.
Wayfarers in Bigfork had the most use in the region with an estimated 72,719 visits. Whitefish Lake was second with 40,936.
Lone Pine saw a 12 percent jump in usage, with 37,591 visits. Big Arm had the greatest increase from 2010 with 28,034, a 16 percent hike. Les Mason had the sharpest drop, 16 percent, to roughly 7,409 visits.
Data is collected by park staff and then compiled by a FWP program specialist.
“These numbers just reinforce the fact that state parks are a valued way to spend time with our family and friends camping, fishing, swimming, hiking and enjoying our state’s heritage,” Chas Van Genderen, the state parks administrator, said.
Statewide, more than 1.2 million people visited state parks, a 1 percent increase over the five-year average.
The Billings region had the second most visits as a whole with roughly 260,000. As a single site, Giant Springs near Great Falls had the most use with about 146,000.
“After such a wet spring that included flooding in some areas, we were pleasantly surprised to see our visitation numbers hold up overall for the summer season,” Van Genderen said. “Parks and outdoor recreation are important to how we define Montana. They are part of why we live here and visitors come here.”
Numbers dropped in May and June compared to the five-year average but spiked in July and August. Across the state, 400,000 people visited sites in July and 300,000 in August, the most since 2007.
State parks have seen a 78 percent increase in use by state residents since 2002, according to a survey completed last year by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
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