DNR says record number of campers visited state parks in 2020

State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources photo.
State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources photo.(Alaska DNR)
Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 5:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources says 2020 was a record year for residents visiting Alaska’s state parks.

“Alaskans visited their state parks in record numbers in 2020,” according a DNR release citing a park official, “turning to affordable outdoor camping for relief from the contagion fears, social distancing restrictions and economic impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ricky Gease, Director of the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, said Alaska’s state parks have always offered residents and visitors a “safe, economical way to enjoy the state’s natural beauty and recreational opportunities.”

“During the pandemic, people have rediscovered the benefits of getting outside into the fresh air,” Gease said, “and we’ve received new data documenting that in a big way.”

According to the DNR, occupancy at all the division’s campgrounds increased from 15,155 nights booked in 2019 to 17,236 in 2020. The department noted that total available bookings can vary slightly, for example due to campsite closures and changes or removals within the reservation system.

Increases in occupancy rates, based on bookings on available nights, were also reflected in public use cabin bookings at the division’s top regional campgrounds from 2019 to 2020, the division said. Among those are K’esugi Ken Campground, in Interior, which increased from 22.1% to 71.2%; Nancy Lakes State Recreation Area, in the Mat-Su, which rose from 30.6% to 38.2%; Chugach State Park in Anchorage, which saw an increase of 47.8% percent to 60.4%; Eagle Beach State Recreation Area in Juneau, which increased from 43.5% to 52.9%; and Chena River State Recreation Area near Fairbanks, which went up from 27.3% to 38.3% year over year.

On par with increased use and visitation, the DNR reports also show revenues at all campgrounds increased, even doubling in some cases.

From 2019 to 2020, the department said, the total campground revenue rose from $830,088 to $1.23 million, or by about 33%. That’s compared to a 15% change from 2018 to 2019, in which there was an increase from $705,451 to $830,088, and a 25% percent from 2017 to 2018, which welcomed a jump from $529,864 to $708,451.

In the release, Gease said that though the revenue increases are welcome, they do not generate any surplus for the division.

“Increased visitor utilization has increased maintenance and operations costs,” according to the release, “while administration costs have held steady or increased in recent years, parks have continuing maintenance needs, and the pandemic continues to create challenges in securing the summer staff and camp hosts that help keep state parks operating.”

“We are proud to see that the numbers indicate state parks necessity as an increasingly popular destination for Alaskans and others,” Gease said, “and we will continue to work hard to make best use of our revenue and resources to provide the highest quality experience for an increasing number of visitors.”

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