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Government, Politics & Issues

2020 Was A Banner Year For Missouri’s Outdoor Recreation Areas

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Jonathan Ahl
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St. Louis Public Radio
The Marguerite Bray Conservation Area in Phelps County is one of the 1,000 Missouri Department of Conservation sites to see increased usage during 2020, largely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is reporting a huge increase in usage of the state’s parks and recreation areas in 2020.

Mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic’s restrictions encouraging people to spend more time outdoors, the more than 1,000 conservation areas saw much larger than usual crowds.

Hunting and fishing permit sales were up by 51,000 in 2020, and conservation staff reported full parking lots that are normally mostly empty. The department doesn’t track the exact number of patrons at recreation areas, as people can come and go without passing through a single entry point.

“During COVID, a lot more folks got outside,” said Joe Jerek, a spokesperson for the Department of Conservation.

“Nature is a balm. When we have been so frustrated and challenged, getting outside has some really great benefits,” Jerek said. “And we have seen that by increased numbers of people at our conservation areas, increased hunting and permit sales, and some other factors.”

The increases are due to Missouri residents, as travel restrictions led to a decrease in out-of-state visitors.

Some indoor conservation areas including nature centers and shooting ranges did close for several weeks early in the pandemic. But all trails, boat ramps and other outdoor areas were accessible.

Even with outdoor options being more attractive during the pandemic, the department still advised visitors to travel in groups of fewer than 10 and maintain social distancing whenever possible.

Jerek said he expects the increased usage to last even after the pandemic has passed.

“By exposing people to nature in so many of these areas, we anticipate that many folks will continue coming back and continuing doing these activities that they have done over this past year,” he said.

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