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Montana State Parks expecting another busy year in 2022

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Posted at 8:45 AM, Feb 24, 2022

MISSOULA — This isn't the weather that brings camping to mind but with expectations for another busy season in the forecast, managers at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) say it's still a good time to get your reservations made for next summer.

While 2021 was the second year in a row that Montana State Parks experienced the continued boom in outdoor recreation, visits were down slightly from 2020. But that wasn't so much because of the pandemic, but rather the weather.

"We were having a record-setting year really coming into July. As we all know, we had some really unseasonably warm conditions. Very smoky conditions across the entire state," explained Montana State Parks spokesperson Pat Doyle. "So when that does happen, which we've seen in the past, that really does affect visitation quite a bit."

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Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls was the most visited park during that stretch but the units of Flathead Lake State Park were the second busiest overall.

Doyle says that didn't bring a drop in the number of people actually camping, but there was a drop at many of the day-use parks, with people opting to avoid the smoke and heat.

"What we see is a lot of times that our people that have that are camping at our parks and have campsite reservations, a lot of times those people do still show up as they're staying there for multiple days as vacation that they planned. But a lot of those day-use visitors do, when it gets super smoky out, try to sit that out."

But setting aside whatever weather impacts there might be this year, State Parks administrators see no end in sight to the outdoor boom. The data shows more people discovering different parks, with some of the strongest growth at Montana's "cultural parks".

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The Lolo and Bitterroot National forests have announced an increase in fees, effective this summer.

"So we've seen a lot of new people coming out to experience our parks. Specifically our cultural parks in places like Bannack State Park. Chief Plenty Coups State Park," Doyle explained. "Really those parks that really tell the story of Montana. So it's been really great to see and we're excited that people really value what state parks bring to Montana."

And with a busy season ahead, Doyle is reminding people they don't have to wait to make reservations for their favorite campsites, especially since we're now in the window for next summer.

"Our parks that do have reservable campsites, do have them available six months in advance. So now is a great time to plan your summer trip if you're planning to go to some of our parks across the state. And you know, as more campsites with other people that manage outdoor recreation in Montana, become more available online and reservations and that's becoming a lot more commonplace, Doyle concluded.