One of the more impressive aspects of the United States is the abundance of state and national parks. Since the dedication of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, over 3,000 state parks and 63 national parks have been established. With summer around the corner, we take a closer look at the state parks of Ohio to explore their popularity and growth and discover how visitor demographics have shifted since the pandemic.
Promising Growth Trends
While Ohio may not be the first state that comes to mind when thinking of nature destinations, the state boasts 75 designated parks – many of which have been growing in popularity in recent years. One, Hocking Hills, saw a 71% increase in web searches between 2021 and 2022 and is on its way to becoming one of the top nature destinations in the country.
Comparing overall monthly foot traffic to Ohio state parks in 2023 and 2019 highlights the parks’ heightened popularity since the pandemic. And even though year-over-year (YoY) visit trends appear to indicate that the visit growth is slowing down, the slight drop needs to be analyzed in the context of the massive year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) increase. Indeed, the YoY dips seen in March and May of this year may be more a reflection of the high 2022 baseline than of any actual drop in interest.
This rise in visits suggests that people who turned to state parks as pandemic-friendly options are returning to these sites even as social distancing concerns abate. And with most parks offering free entrances and affordable rates for their campgrounds, these public spaces can also be excellent choices for recreation in an inflation-marked period.
Within this impressive picture of Yo4Y growth comes one outlier. Hocking Hills State Park, ranked one of the most beautiful in the country, has experienced massive Yo4Y visit growth, along with more muted YoY growth, in every month analyzed .
Visits to the 2,500 square acre park were particularly elevated in January and February 2023, likely owing to a winter storm in 2022 that made many outdoor activities impossible and brought last year’s visits down. But the mild winter of 2023 may have increased turnout to the park’s annual winter hike, while the addition of a lodge with a restaurant on the grounds in October 2022 likely attracted overnight guests who also drove foot traffic up.
The Bigger Park Picture
Visits to Ohio state parks demonstrated stable seasonal patterns, with visits rising in the warmer months and falling during the colder months. But the drop in winter visits was significantly less sustained in 2023 – a baseline examination of visits to 37 state parks from December 2019 reveals that February 2023 enjoyed growth of 29.8% relative to the same baseline. And with both YoY and Yo4Y visits to parks showing the largest increases in January and February, it seems that people are increasingly more amenable to winter hikes and recreation. To that end, the state has been encouraging winter park visitors to admire the frozen waterfalls or try out snowshoeing.
Parks Becoming More Inclusive
Analyzing the demographic characteristics of the parks’ visitor base can highlight the audiences driving the increase in visits to Ohio’s parks. Layering data from the STI: Popstats 2022 dataset onto the captured market of some of Ohio’s largest state parks reveals a downward shift in the median HHI in the parks’ trade areas. This decrease in median HHI could indicate a link between the affordability of state parks and the recent increase in foot traffic. As budgets become tighter, visitors could be opting for state parks as a cost-effective vacation option – and the many people who discovered the joys of national and state parks during the pandemic may be returning in 2023 to enjoy the affordable recreation.
Physical, emotional, mental – there are endless benefits to spending time outside. As the summer kicks into full swing, Ohio’s parks can hope to see continued elevated visits.
For updates and more data-driven foot traffic insights, visit Placer.ai.