MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama State Parks saw an increase in visitors in 2020.
According to state officials, 6.27 million people visited Alabama’s 21 parks during the fiscal year which ended in Sept. 2020. That’s an increase of more than 1.5 million visitors, or about 32 percent.
“Alabama State Parks has always been one of the state’s true treasures, and it’s gratifying to know so many people recognized that fact and visited the parks last year,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “From the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to the beautiful sugar-white beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, each of the 21 parks offers something unique.”
Officials were able to keep the parks open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I remain intensely grateful to Gov. Kay Ivey for making the courageous decision to keep our parks open,” Blankenship added. “People needed an outlet for recreation, and the amazing staff at our parks made sure people could visit safely.”
According to state park officials, visitors played 61,235 rounds of golf at the golf course in the state parks system during the fiscal year. That’s an increase of 39 percent.
Campsite occupancy also grew 9.5 percent year-over-year. Officials say it’s an impressive figure considering the Joe Wheeler campground was damaged by a tornado in Dec. 2019 and remained closed for most of the year.
Officials say hurricane season also disrupted camping season throughout the fall at Gulf and Meaher state parks in Baldwin County.
“We all recognize the challenges all Americans faced in 2020, and the parks system faced the added stress surrounding hurricane damage and recovery,” Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said. “But everyone pulled together and made sure the parks thrived despite every obstacle. That’s a testament to all of our employees who made sure that our visitors enjoy a wonderful experience.”
State parks officials said the growing number of visitors remains vital to the park system. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of annual fund comes from customer fees.