Help is quickly on the way for overcrowded Wyoming State Park properties. Gov. Mark Gordon announced last month that he is allocating up to $6.5 million of the state’s remaining CARES Act funds …
Help is quickly on the way for overcrowded Wyoming State Park properties. Gov. Mark Gordon announced last month that he is allocating up to $6.5 million of the state’s remaining CARES Act funds to expand capacity at state parks and historic sites in an effort to boost tourism and address overcrowding. Buffalo Bill State Park will receive a substantial chunk.
The park west of Cody has about 100 campsites today, but by this weekend, capacity is expected to double. That’s thanks to Buffalo Bill State Park receiving about $1 million of the CARES funds to increase facilities in three phases over the next couple years, combined with quick action by park officials, said Brooks Jordan, Bighorn District manager for Wyoming State Parks.
“Our goal is to increase capacity as fast as possible. Some will already be open this coming weekend,” Jordan said. “It’s all happening so fast, we’re not sure how many we can get done in Phase 1.”
Across Wyoming, the CARES funding will provide about 20% more overnight camping capacity in response to a significant increase in demand state parks have experienced in the past year. Visitation increased 36% in response to the global pandemic in 2020. That translates to more than 1.4 million additional visitors, exceeding capacity limits at most sites.
“Expanding outdoor recreation opportunities will benefit the state, and will provide an immediate return on investment,” Gordon said in a statement. “The public appreciated the fact that our parks remained open last year, providing a healthy option to relieve the stress of the pandemic. Strengthening our state park system is important to Wyoming’s long-term economic health as well.”
Buffalo Bill State Park — which is the only state park property in Park County — was sold out for camping spots from early summer through fall last year. The campgrounds at the park are a popular resting place for visitors heading into the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Nearly 20% of all visitors to the park enter through Cody, many looking for campground vacancies.
“We’ve been full every night. We’re turning people away. And we’re booked up solid through the whole summer,” said Assistant Superintendent Jared Brinkerhoff.
Facilities in the Cody area have gotten busy enough that some visitors with RVs have been referred to the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell — which has seen an unprecedented surge in demand for campsites, according to County Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Mike Garza.
Officials were expecting the crowds. Interest in outdoor recreation escalated during COVID-19 mandates and this year every state and national park has seen a rush of visitors.
“They opened the floodgates,” Brinkerhoff said.
The first move at Buffalo Bill State Park is to double the number of sites, offering primitive spots on a first-come, first-served basis; fire rings and picnic tables will be added as supplies become available. The second stage will include adding nearly a dozen small cabins suitable for families of four and signage for the new spots. The final stage will include new infrastructure, Jordan said, like shower houses and bathrooms, more signage and possibly new access roads.
The park combines Bureau of Reclamation land and state park property. “We’re working very closely with the BOR to ensure we meet all regulations.”
Josh and Tira Cannon, of Rincon, Georgia made their reservations for the North Fork area campground early this spring.
“We wanted a site with electricity, but none were available,” Josh Cannon said.
The campgrounds are full, but they were thankful to get a spot.
“Every state park has been packed since COVID pushed everyone outdoors,” he said.
The couple and their rat terrier, Piper, have already seen seven bears, and a moose visited the campground earlier in the week. “It crossed the water right over there,” Josh Cannon said, pointing to the Shoshone River.
Even the tent camping is full every night, Brinkerhoff said. “We do have sprinklers we run Monday through Friday [in the tent camping area]. So be careful to put them on the gravel pad so you don’t get hit with the water.”
In response to the recent rush of visitation and the impacts to local residents seeking campsites, Park Superintendent Dan Marty announced changes to the reservation system in January. That includes holding 16 of the 98 spots open until two weeks in advance in an attempt to help locals find a camping spot during the busy seasons for the Yellowstone gateway facility. Visitors can make online reservations up to four months in advance.
“A lot of us don’t know when we go camping until two weeks prior,” Marty said at the time. “So we wanted to set some spots aside for folks who decided to go camping at the last minute.”
He suggested checking the www.reserveamerica.com site periodically, as cancellations pop up from time to time. All reservations can be made on the site instead of calling the park. A 2021 daily or season state park pass is also required to visit or camp at all state parks in the state.