SALT LAKE CITY — If you went camping on Utah’s public lands this past summer, you were not alone, literally.
A new survey shows a major increase in camping on national public lands in the past decade, with a notable spike during the pandemic. The estimated occupancy for reserved campsites in Utah in the summer months has seen a 77% increase from 2014 to 2020.
Tyler McIntosh, conservation and research manager at The Center for Western Priorities and the report’s author, said interest in the great outdoors has exploded in recent years.
“Looking at a lot of the polling, we see that they’re incredibly popular,” McIntosh confirmed. “Polling from Colorado College in 2020 found that 84% of Westerners support creating new protected areas like national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and tribal protected areas.”
While conservation groups applauded the increased interest in public lands, McIntosh noted there are concerns the parks have limited resources, and overcrowding could strain them. The study showed increased use demonstrated a need for more funding for land-management systems.
McIntosh added nationally, growth in national parks visitation has smashed records this year, while campgrounds and other facilities on protected lands outside the National Park System were not as full, leaving extra room for camping in other areas.
“The national parks consistently has the highest levels of occupancy,” McIntosh reported. “There’s been a huge growth in the popularity of other national public lands, which tells me that the public is beginning to discover these other landscapes, to love them, and to want to spend time out on them.”
For those looking for less crowded campsites, the report has an interactive tool to search campgrounds with highest and lowest site occupancy, in Utah and other states. Results can be filtered by season, by weekdays or weekends, or by year.
Written by MARK RICHARDSON, producer for Utah News Connection.
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