COVID-era parks trend continues: More people spend time outside

Park use statistics at the state level was higher in 2022 than in pre-COVID 2019

Despite the perception of our ever-increasing phone addictions, more people are getting outside and enjoying fresh air compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohio parks saw a jump in the number of patrons during the first two pandemic years. Though some areas saw slight dips from 2021 to 2022, preliminary data from area and state park districts indicates more Ohioans have stuck with the great outdoors compared to 2019.

The raw number of people who attend Ohio state parks in a year is difficult to measure because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (and many local park districts) don’t charge admission fees, said Stephanie O’Grady, outreach specialist with the ODNR. However, the agency uses several other metrics to measure park use in a given year.

For example, in 2022, more than 882,000 people reserved overnight stays at ODNR camping facilities, slightly down from 913,000 people in 2021, which was the highest number in the last five years. But in 2020, that figure was 739,000, and it was 732,000 in 2019.

In July, ODNR’s busiest month, visitors booked 10,000 more campsites in 2020, and 18,000 more campsites in 2021. Overall, Ohio state parks saw a 20% increase in camping trips from 2019 to 2021, during the peak season of May to October.

Camping trips slowed slightly in 2022 by an average of about 4,000 stays a month during that same time frame, but remain higher than 2019 by about 18,500 visits.

The trend of more people boating did not slow at all in 2022. Watercraft registrations were up, going from almost 644,000 in 2021 to 653,000 in 2022. Pre-pandemic boat registrations were much lower at 586,000 in 2019.

In Greene County, program participation numbers are on the rise, with most events and activities selling out, often resulting in large waitlists, said Robin Gregory, Greene County Parks special events and programs manager.

Most recently, the department’s Extreme Egg Hunt, a program for adults 18 and up, sold 758 spots in under 12 hours. It also currently has 350 people on the waiting list. Crafting classes sell out 50 to 60 spots in under a minute, and an R&B concert by Ginuwine at Caesar Ford Park sold out with 1,497 guests, Gregory said.

Many people found “new appreciation” for parks in 2020, as one of the few places they could go for recreation, exercise and mental well-being, without paying a fee for entry, Gregory said via email.

“Three years later, people continue to visit as it has now become a part of their daily lives,” she said.

In addition to smaller upgrades, the county has opened a new dog park at Hobson Freedom Park in Fairborn, and is also in the process of a $3.2 million upgrade to Caesar Ford Park in Xenia. Plans include a pull-through campsite, with access to electricity, shower house, shelter house, and the bike trail.

“The increase we saw during COVID has continued, and that’s why we’re responding with more shelter houses, more benches, more individually covered picnic tables,” said Jon Dobney, director of Greene County Parks and Trails.

This is the first time Greene County will have a Class A campsite, or a campground with modern amenities, Dobney said.

“It’ll be a popular place,” he said. “We’re pretty confident.”

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