AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas State Parks system is on pace for record-setting visitation for the 88 locations spread out across Texas, according to the head of the park system.
Director Rodney Franklin said overall visitation is outpacing last year’s turnout by as much as 30%, and is well ahead of 2019 levels.
“If this trend continues — potentially we could be looking at record numbers,” Franklin said. “Wouldn’t surprise me at all.”
Franklin, who’s been with TSP for over 30 years, said he can’t say for certain that record visitation will happen, but that the current pace is certainly on track for it.
With July traffic spurred by Independence Day weekend, then an expected dip in visitors due to skyrocketing August temperatures, Franklin suspects the weather will serve as the main influence on turnout, depending on how much rain or flooding might cause temporary park closures.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the park system stayed open. The traditional weekend bump flattened out throughout the week because people often took opportunities to turn working from home into working from a trail or a cabin.
“If you get good connectivity with Wi-Fi, you can do a lot of your work on the computer from the comfort and beauty of a Texas State Park,” Franklin noted.
“A lot of people that discovered us during the pandemic stayed with us, even after things open back up.,” he shared. “So we’re still seeing a large visit at large numbers of people visiting parks.”
Visitors like Randi Ragsdale, her husband and son, were eager to venture back outside as the pandemic declined.
“As soon as summer started, we couldn’t wait to get our kids outside,” Ragsdale explained. “They’ve been cooped up all year and so after a year of at-home learning, the first thing they wanted to do is get out and start playing.”
“I don’t mind waiting in line if it means that we get to enjoy the parks,” she said as she and her family drove out of McKinney Falls State Park in Austin.
The new reservation system helped, Franklin explained, and visitors have acclimated to that even as the pandemic recedes.
“Before we had our new business system, you couldn’t reserve a day-use spot online before you came to the park. So you just had to drive to the park and take your chances, and sometimes parts would fill up and that would be disappointing. Of course, those folks that sometimes drive and and are not able to get into the park,” he said. “During the pandemic, it really helped us for folks to be able to plan ahead and reserve their day you spot or online spot ahead of time before they made that drive.”
2017 was the biggest year on record for the Texas State Parks system, Franklin stated.
“We had nearly ten million visitors at that time,” he recalled. “We may be approaching that this year, so some of our staff describe it as the never ending spring break.”