Alabama State Parks experience big increase in 2020 visitors

Oak Mountain State Park
Photo via Oak Mountain State Park’s Facebook

Despite a global pandemic, visitors flocked to Alabama State Parks in 2020.

An estimated  6.27 million people visited Alabama’s 21 parks during the 2020 fiscal year which ended September 30, 2020. That’s an increase of more than 1.5 million visitors, or about 32 percent, according to state officials in a report by WSFA.

In a story last summer by Bham Now about the Alabama State Park system, the state anticipated an increase in annual visitation totals because it had kept  the state parks open for day use during the early months of the COVID-19 shutdowns (the lodges were closed).

Refuge

Cheaha State Park
Cheaha State Park. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

“We were pleasantly surprised that people viewed us as a refuge, a safe place where they could practice social distancing and enjoy the great outdoors, and do it responsibly,” Jerry Weisenfeld, Marketing Manager for Alabama State Parks told Bham Now.

Golfing and camping led to increased park usage. In total, visitors played 61,235 rounds of golf across the state parks system, an increase of 39 percent.  Campsite occupancy also grew 9.5 percent year-over-year. 

The numbers are unsurprising. Parks were truly a haven for people during the pandemic. Local parks all over Birmingham, including Red Mountain Park, Ruffner Mountain and Railroad Park reported dramatic increases in yearly attendance.

What Makes Alabama State Parks Special

Alabama State Parks
Mountain biking at Oak Mountain State Park. Photo via Billy Pope courtesy of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Perhaps Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein summed up why people are using the state parks now more than ever. From the Bham Now September 2020 story:

“The special things about being involved with the park system are the people and the staff that manage the parks. They are the most special employees that I’ve ever had the privilege to ever work with. They are the most dedicated and giving people you will ever meet. It is like people who go into nursing, education or the ministry—they have a calling to work in the park system. They are giving people.

Alabama State Park
Peavine Falls at Oak Mountain State Park. Photo from Outdoor Alabama

On the other side of that coin are the people we serve, the people who go out into our parks—they want to be there. They are there for recreational reasons, respite and renewing their spiritual deficits. We really enjoy serving. It is a great privilege—a rich and rewarding experience.”

We agree. 

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  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.