Montana's 50 State Parks hosted a record 1.65 million visitors in 2004 including more Montanans than in recent years.
"About 73 percent of Parks visitors last year were Montanans," said Doug Monger, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' state parks division administrator. "We expect to see this trend continue." In 2005, more residents are expected to take advantage of having unlimited access to state parks by paying a $4 optional annual fee on their vehicle license registrations.
Montana State Parks visitation statistics were reported in the annual visitation report completed by FWP to assess visitor trends at all 50 state parks.
"Not surprisingly, we learned that visits to state parks such as Giant Springs, Traveler's Rest and Missouri Headwaters, all on the Lewis and Clark Trail, increased," Monger said.
Giant Springs was the most highly visited Montana State Park last year with 180,024 visitors. Travelers' Rest State Park near Missoula, one of the newest parks in the system and also situated on the Lewis and Clark trail, swept in over 14,000 visitors. That is a whopping 89 percent increase in visits for this new park. The growth here is attributed to interest in Lewis and Clark and to an increase in parks staff and programs that engage the Missoula community and schools in park activities.
According to the report, Montanans prefer water-based parks—85 percent of visitors to water-based parks were residents. While nonresidents travelers seem to be more drawn to cultural and natural parks.
Statistics show that 86 percent of state parks visitors in 2004 were day visitors, while 14 percent stayed overnight. State park camping fees of $12-15 apply to resident and nonresident visitors.
For details contact Sue Dalbey, State Parks Planner, 404-444-3764, or view the statewide 2004 Montana State Parks Visitation Report on the FWP web site at fwp.mt.gov . Here is a region-by-region summary of the 2004 Visitation Report.
Whitefish Lake, Lone Pine and Logan state parks all had more visitors in 2004. The six Flathead Lake parks accounted for about 62 percent of the region's total visitors, and 59 percent of the region's overnight visitors in 2004.
Salmon Lake continued as the most visited park in this region with 32,059 visitors. The number of visitors at Placid Lake increased 13 percent to 31,462 in 2004. Overall, 27 percent of state park visitors in this region camped during their stay.
Missouri Headwaters State Park was the most heavily visited park in this region with 92,346 visitors in 2004, a 32 percent increase over 2003 (69,759). Spring Meadow Lake State Park in Helena was the second most visited park with 90,822 visitors in 2004, nearly a 7 percent increase from the year before. Missouri Headwaters State Park's increased popularity, and a 113 percent increase in visitors to nearby Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, are attributed to statewide interest in the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.
State parks visitors in 2004 in the Great Falls area increased 5 percent to 227,097, including Smith River floaters. For the first time since 1995, Giant Springs was the most highly visited park in the state, with a 23 percent increase to180,024 visitors in 2004.
In total, the number of state parks visitors in the Billings area was up by 1 percent to 361,181 visits in 2004. Visits to Chief Plenty Coups state park increased by about 32 percent from 34,466 in 2003 to 45,552 in 2004. Visits to Pictograph Cave State Park increased by 30 percent to 10,364 visits.
State parks in the Miles City area saw a 5 percent increase in visitors in 2004 overall. The Tongue River, with 80,815 visitors in 2004, generally hosts the bulk of area state park visitors. Makoshika State Park, with a 17 percent increase in visitors, had the highest growth rate.