Visitation is up, along with activities, at Utah State Parks
Utah State Parks employees have worked hard the past few years to develop programs and create experiences to pull in more visitors.
Their efforts seem to be reaping benefits.
The state agency reported a 5.78 percent jump in visitation from 2011 to 2012 with more than 5 million visits last year, up from 4.8 million the previous year.
More visitors also mean more money, and roughly $1.175 million was collected due to the increase. That money will go back into operations, management and renovations.
"We would love to reach around and pat ourselves on the back for doing it all, but the economy continues to play a role as people are tending to stay a little closer to home," said Utah State Parks Director Fred Hays. "Maybe Utahns are going out and discovering things to do in Utah and then going back to them or taking in other parks."
The water-based parks and local hiking/wildlife viewing parks dominated visitation in 2012, but Hays said he is impressed with the growth in smaller "community-type" parks and even museums.
The Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum in Fillmore is a good example. The park has experienced phenomenal growth the past two years: 156 percent from 2010 to 2011 and an additional 28 percent last year.
Territorial Statehouse Curator Carl Camp has enjoyed seeing the number of visitors at the park climb.
"The first increase was really due to changes in how we count people," Camp said, "but one of the big keys has been working with the community. We just had a meeting with the mayor, a county commissioner and state tourism officials. We are really working on supporting heritage tourism."
At Territorial Statehouse, that means the "Building Zion Youth Camp."
A surge of interest by Youth Conference groups from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the camp bolstered numbers last year and scheduling for 2013 is already ahead of 2012.
The camps take participants back to the 1860s. Campers build cabins using "giant Lincoln Logs" and learn things like rope- and candle-making, weaving, quilting and cooking using a woodstove.
Another popular activity more for locals, although some come from 60 miles away, is the annual Statehood Day celebration held the first Saturday in January.
The highlight is a dance, which allows participants to wear formal attire from any time period. Dresses range from grandma's prom dress to a dress purchased for a prom in 2013.
Hays said finding a way to bring in visitors statewide and locally is key to keeping the numbers growing and revenue flowing.
"I hope we continue on this trend," Hays said. "We still have plenty of opportunities for people to visit on weekdays and enjoy our parks. We can get a little busy on weekends, but people will always find midweek a lot less crowded. We may work on ways to get people to come on those days."
Utah State Parks visitation
2012 • 5,081,558
2011 • 4,803,770
2010 • 4,842,918
2009 • 4,788,056
2008 • 4,564,770
Most visited Utah State Parks in 2012
Deer Creek • 360,565
Snow Canyon • 353,870
Willard Bay • 348,534
Jordanelle • 323,689
Antelope Island • 292,662
Source: Utah State Parks