With fewer recreational opportunities, Alaskans flock to state parks

The view looking toward Anchorage from the Wolverine Peak Trail in Chugach State Park on Saturday, April 25, 2020. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s state parks have seen a major uptick in users as snow melts and other recreational opportunities remain limited by concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

A period of “hunkering down” following state and local orders coincided with Alaska’s short spring, and over that time there’s been a 36 percent increase in visitors to state parks, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Department spokeswoman Wendy Sailors estimated a similar increase in visitors compared to this time last year. That’s based on shared cellphone data that logs Alaskans’ movements anonymously and shows they’ve been flocking to state parks and trailheads, she said.

“People are stuck at home with their kids, they want to get outside,” Sailors said. “And that’s just a way to get everybody what they need for their mental health, emotional health and physical health.”

Seasonal campgrounds across the state open on or around May 15, though Sailors said that depends on things like how quickly snow melts.

But most, if not all, of the regular campground hosts from out of state are not returning, and state park officials are hoping Alaskans will step in to fill the gap, Sailors said.

Sailors says campground users are encouraged to continue following CDC guidelines for hygiene and social distancing, and parks officials are still looking at the possibility of creating greater spacing between campers.

“We’re having that conversation, but a lot of the sites aren’t really that close to each other, so it’s really just a matter of signage and encouraging people to keep the social distancing,” Sailors said. “Some people might be more sensitive to others, and so to be cognizant of that, to be responsible, and caring to the people in the site next to you. If they don’t want your dog coming over into their site, you know, dogs, children, those sorts of things.”

Anyone staying in a state public use cabin is asked to bring their own cleaning supplies and to disinfect the cabin before and after their stay. The state has also been offering full refunds for cabin cancellations, with increased worry about sharing spaces during the pandemic.