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Outdoor Activities Attracting More Visitors to State Parks

By SCOTT

McCLOSKEY

Staff Writer

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have said some of the safest places around are wide-open spaces away from the crowds. State parks are among the sites that best provide those features … and some fun along with it.

Fishing, boating, camping and hiking are just a few of the outdoor activities that have attracted many people to state parks since the onset of the pandemic, according to local tourism and Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokespeople.

Belmont County Tourism Office Executive Director Barb Ballint said her office gets a lot of calls from people interested in information about the local state parks.

“We get phone calls a lot about hiking trails, bike trails, places to camp,” she explained.

Ballint said from participating in online webinars she has learned that since the onset of the pandemic, state parks have been much busier with people looking for those outdoor adventures where they can socially distance from crowds.

“Safety is at the forefront now,” she said.“When people can control their environment they feel safe.”

Ballint said that, early on in the pandemic, more and more people began showing an interest in the many outdoor activities at places like Barkcamp and Salt Fork state parks.

“They do have a lot of people who come in with their campers and bring their trailers in and camp there because of the horseback (riding) trails,” Ballint explained.

Stephanie O’Grady, media and outreach specialist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said visiting the state parks, trails and open spaces are great ways to relieve stress, get some fresh air and stay active.

“People have found solace in outdoor activities this past year,” she said. “Our parks saw a big increase in visitors in the spring and summer of 2020 and they remained busy as the weather got colder in the winter.”

O’Grady said In the warmer months, campgrounds saw dramatic upticks and, despite being closed for several months in the spring, statewide visitors stayed more than 10,000 additional nights in 2020 compared to 2019. In addition, lodges and cabins were also popular this past year and a suitable option for the cold winter months.

O’Grady also described a number of changes and safety regulations the parks have implemented to better accommodate guests in the pandemic.

“It’s important to keep safety in mind when you head outdoors,” she said. “(The) ODNR maximized social distancing on some of its most popular trails, such as those at Hocking Hills and Maumee Bay state parks, by developing one-way trails so visitors are able to hike and maintain safe social distancing from other visitors. Visitors to Barkcamp and Salt Fork will notice additional safety signage relevant to social distancing.”

She said they have also provided specific guidance on how to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities safely on the DNR’s website ohiodnr.gov. When visiting their website, guests should click the red bar at the top of the homepage and the guidance documents are on the right side of the page.

The Ohio DNR has asked guests to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by:

∫ Staying home if you are sick.

∫ Wearing a mask. Masks are required when you are indoors or when you are outdoors and unable to maintain 6 feet of distance from others.

∫ Keeping your distance. Maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and other visitors.

∫ Keeping it small. Visitors should only gather with people in their household. Gathering in groups larger than 10 is prohibited.

∫ Avoiding crowded areas.  If a parking lot is full, move on to a different area or come back later. Cars parked illegally on roadways or grassy areas will be ticketed or towed.

∫ Sanitizing. Bring hand sanitizer with you and use it and/or wash your hands with soap and water before and after you participate in an activity outdoors.

O’Grady said that, for state parks overnight visitors, they have reduced interactions with staff by making all their campsites, including horse camps, reservable through visiting the website reserveohio.com. She said this has led to quicker check-ins for campers.

“We have implemented increased cleaning protocols at our facilities to keep guests safe,” O’Grady explained. “We have also closed shelter houses and cancelled in-person programming to avoid crowds. Events have been cancelled on state park properties through Memorial Day.”

Reservations for all camp sites may be made six months in advance, so DNR officials encourage folks to visit the reservation site and make their summer plans now. O’Grady said the DNR’s naturalists and staff continue to provide information online. Virtual visitors can find virtual hikes and other videos on the OhioDNR YouTube channel.

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