WHITE SANDS, N.M. (KRQE) – Despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many to cancel travel plans, White Sands National Park is seeing some of its busiest months in the last five years. A place that’s nearly all outdoors and has social distancing almost automatically built-in, many people are opting for a getaway at White Sands National Park.
“Throughout this whole pandemic, um, public lands have created space for Americans to recreate responsibly and that’s including White Sands,” Kelly Carroll, Chief of Interpretation at White Sands National Park, said.
Despite a temporary ban on camping and the park’s museum and theater being closed, the National Park has seen a big increase in visitors in recent months. In four of the last six months, it has seen more visitors than it has in those months in the last five years. Here is a break down of the visitors:
- February 2021: 37,766, February 2020: 41,823, February 2019: 35,531, February 2018: 35,280, February 2017: 34,370
- January 2021: 45,053, January 2020: 40,264, January 2019: 4,693, January 2018: 33,285, January 2017: 28, 725
- December 2020: 26,649, December 2019: 49,057, December 2018: 17,051, December 2017: 45,182, December 2016: 36,772
- November 2020: 42,232, November 2019: 38,575, November 2018: 41,094, November 2017: 42,231, November 2016: 36,041
- October 2020: 57,660, October 2019: 50,053, October 2018: 45,409, October 2017: 44,473, October 2016: 43,872
- September 2020: 57,660, September 2019: 43,009, September 2018: 45,752, September 2017: 41,285, September 2016: 45,679
“I’m always excited when people visit or discover their national parks. I mean they’re wonderful places and even during really tough times like this, I think they really do show their value,” Carroll said. While it has some restrictions like no camping and a closed museum and theater, the national park has never had capacity limits nor closed its recreation areas. That and the park being a safer place to have fun during a pandemic could be behind the increase in visitors.
“Throughout the pandemic, a lot of places that we recreate or entertain ourselves during the day just have not been available. So, I believe there’s a certain amount of people that are exploring their nation’s public lands for the first time,” Carroll said. He also points to White Sands becoming a national park in 2019.
“It just puts you on a lot more bucket lists. It just creates a bigger exposure to the park to people and so I think there are people putting white sands on their travel plans,” Carroll said. It’s too early to tell if March 2021 will be another record-breaking month for the park but Carroll said it has been very busy.