During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 20.6 million people visited Wisconsin state parks and natural areas, according to the State Department of Natural Resources. This is about 3 million more than the previous year.
Missy VanLanduyt, section chief of recreation partnerships with the Wisconsin State Parks System, said this year is on track to breaking the 2020 record, and so far the DNR has seen a 25% increase in the number. visitors compared to the same period in 2019.
As people head to parks and natural areas, VanLanduyt said there are still restrictions on some amenities due to the pandemic. A few of the restrictions implemented last year have been lifted, although for most not much has changed.
VanLanduyt said the toilets are now open. Nature centers and office buildings are still closed, but VanLanduyt said stand-alone concession facilities are open at 50% occupancy.
The towers and playgrounds have also been open since April 30. And the capacity has grown from 50 to 100 for outdoor shelters, outdoor group camps and amphitheatres.
One thing that has not changed is the “Leave No Trace” mantra intended to remind visitors to be aware of the protection of the state’s natural resources.
There are seven principles established by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics that park visitors should follow and that help to ensure that the landscape is protected. VanLanduyt said these principles apply to anyone recreating themselves on public lands.
These principles are: Plan ahead and prepare for your trip; travel and camp on durable surfaces; properly dispose of waste; leave stones, sticks and other natural objects where you find them; minimize the impact of campfires; respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.
VanLanduyt said a big deal is getting people to camp and park only in designated areas and stay on the trails, which can be especially difficult when the trails are mudder in the spring.
“So many people are out there, and they maybe don’t want to get their shoes dirty, so they get around the mud and actually it causes more damage,” she said, adding that off-trail foot traffic can. damaging habitat and plants and widening the trail, making it unstable and needing more repairs down the line.
She said proper garbage disposal was an issue last year and that she is encouraging visitors this year to use the toilets and bathrooms in the safe. Also, she said to make sure you pack cereal bar wrappers, water bottles and other trash.
Visitors might spot baby animals in the spring, but VanLanduyt warned to leave the wildlife alone.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that the mothers or parents of these babies are hunting or have strayed from their babies so as not to attract predators,” she said. “Just leave the wildlife and don’t feed it, don’t try to capture it, don’t take it anywhere.”
If you find an injured animal or baby, call an MNR conservation warden or rescue center.
When it comes to being courteous to other visitors, VanLanduyt said most of the time you should give in to others, but if you are going down a trail you should be the one giving in to people going up the trail. Try to distance yourself socially as best you can, she said, but it might help to wear a buff or have a mask in your pocket to put on when you don’t have enough room to move around. safe with others.
VanLunduyt said that in the coming weeks, the DNR will post a graphic on its website showing where people can find “hidden gems” in state-run parks and natural areas. People will also have the option to search by activity for a park that matches their interests, whether it’s off-road biking, camping, hiking, kayaking or other activities.