Tourism funds to come from CARES Act remainders

WYOMING – The tourism boom of 2021 has already hit Wyoming hard, with record numbers of visitors to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Another casualty of this influx of tourists is the standard state park. Wyoming State Parks have experienced high visitation numbers, creating overcrowding at camping sites and fishing spots. And visitation numbers show no signs of slowing down.

In an effort to alleviate some of the overcrowding, Gov. Mark Gordon announced last week that up to $6.5 million of remaining CARES Act funds will be used to fund capacity expansions at Wyoming state parks and historical sites. These funds are eligible for CARES Act funding because they’ll expand opportunities for time outside for people to address overcrowding and boost tourism as a result of COVID-19.

According to a statement released by Gov. Gordon’s office, funds should increase overnight camping capacities by 18 percent to visitors and the traveling public. A portion of the funds will also expand day-use amenities like picnic shelters and parking.

Statistics show Wyoming State Parks saw a 36-percent increase in visitation last year, translating to more than 1,400,000 additional visitors to state parks. That’s exceeded capacity at most state park sites.

“Expanding outdoor recreation opportunities will benefit the state, and will provide an immediate return on investment,” Gov. Gordon said. “The public appreciated the fact that our parks remained open last year, providing a healthy option to relieve the stress of the pandemic. Strengthening our state park system is important to Wyoming’s long-term economic health as well.”

Tourism is one of Wyoming’s main economic drivers. Its state parks produce an annual economic impact of approximately $1.5 billion, according to initial drafts of a recent economic impact study conducted by the University of Wyoming.

State Parks Director Darin Westby said the additional campsites and expansion of day-use amenities will be added quickly to the existing parks system in hopes of providing additional opportunities this summer. Facilities and accommodations may be temporary initially but will be improved upon as more funds become available.

“We have an amazing team and they are excited and working very hard to offer these additional campsites, developed to get people outdoors and recreating to help achieve the agency’s mission of impacting communities and enhancing lives,” Westby said.

Diane Shober, the executive director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism, acknowledged Wyoming’s history for tourism and visitation.

This summer’s already brought license plates from various states throughout Sublette County, filling campsites, RV parks and local motels. The state’s office of tourism encourages that to stimulate Wyoming’s economy, even among the smaller communities not built to sustain that level of human traffic. Perhaps these latest funds could help update tourism infrastructure where needed.

“As Wyoming continues to be a top outdoor destination for tourists, we are seeing campsites, lodging and other amenities nearly booked for the summer, especially throughout state parks,” Shober said. “This is a great opportunity to meet summer travel demand while continuing to offer visitors and residents alike a memorable outdoor adventure.”