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The Pandemic Drove Record Amounts of Visitors To State Parks Across Utah, In the Wasatch Back

Utah DNR - State Parks

 State park visits have skyrocketed during the pandemic, with a record amount of visitors in 2020. 

While parks have seen an uptick in visitors for the past couple years, last year there was a 33% increase, according to Scott Strong, deputy director of Utah State Parks. 

He said during the pandemic they had 10.6 million visitors, up 2.3 million from the previous year. 

“We kept all of our state parks open, we did have to follow protocol based on the different county health departments,” Strong said. “But we did as much as possible to continue to allow people a place to recreate and experience nature. And we saw that people just demanded that they were looking for those opportunities, especially when so many other opportunities were closed.”

Even as COVID-19 restrictions began to let up, Strong said people still had an interest in being outside. 

“I think the residual impact of what we've seen is that people have discovered the outdoors again, there were a bunch of campaigns, they, you know, put down your tablet, your phone and go outside,” he said. “Well, I think that pandemic actually created that atmosphere and people have gone to state parks that they haven't been to for years.”


The Jordanelle State Park in the Wasatch Back was no exception to the uptick in state park visitors, according to Office Manager Natalie Harmon.

“We were so exhausted by the end of the summer,” Harmon said. “We're really thankful that winter comes when we get a little bit of a respite. Catch up from the previous summer and prepare for the next one. And yeah, if we were going steady like that all year, I don't know if any of us could do it.”


She said they had 750,000 visitors last year.

“I would consider overcrowding in every inch of the park,” she said. “Unless you are, maybe on the other side over at Ross Creek. But Hailstone is, I don't know if you've been here on a weekend in the summer, but the word is...it's ridiculous. And so yeah, it's super busy.”

She said people were still able to social distance in the park. And new rules from the Department of Health require visitors to seek approval to host an event or to reserve group campsites.

As MIDA and private contractors continue to build around the Jordanelle, Harmon said there’s both good and bad to new development. 

“It's kind of a double edged sword there, where you're getting more people, you're expanding services,” she said. “But then we need to hire more people that are going to be over there to handle the number of people, the cars. We're hoping that we will be able to get a couple new, full time staff hired on to help us with the new crowds with these developments.” 

She said the developers have proposed paths to the park and might require residents to have annual park passes so they aren’t breaking the law to go in the water. 

There are a number of other state parks in the Wasatch Back including Rockport and  Echo State Parks. Strong said when wait times are long at Jordanelle, they offer great alternatives and are only a short distance away.


Jessica joins KPCW as a general assignment reporter and Sunday Weekend Edition host. A Florida native, she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in English — concentrating in film studies — and journalism. Before moving to Utah, she spent time in Atlanta, GA.
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