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Visitation to Montana State Parks continues to grow and on track to set another record

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MISSOULA, Montana — Visitation to Montana State Parks continues to increase and is on track to set another record this year.

So far through June, visitation was up 21 percent over the same period in 2014. More than 1 million visitors entered the parks during the first half of the year, compared with 850,000 in 2014.

The increasing state park numbers follow a national trend toward greater outdoor recreation use, said Betsy Kirkeby, spokeswoman for Montana State Parks.

"We've broken the record for the last four years," Kirkeby said. "And it's steadily going up."

She attributed the increase in part to the variety of recreation options available.

Fishing and hunting aren't the only activities that get people outdoors anymore, she said. Increases in the popularity of mountain biking and paddleboarding help fill the parks with people.

Another reason for the increase was the warmer winter and hot weather in June, followed by cooler weather, providing perfect conditions for people to be outside, Kirkeby told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/1UxfoPA).

Amy Grout, Flathead Lake District Park manager, said the increase in park use has been big.

"We've had weekends where our day-use parking area was so full that people had to park outside and walk in," she said. "I can't remember that happening before."

Kirkeby said in-state and out-of-state visitor numbers won't be available until the end of the year, but in 2014, 81 percent of visitors came from Montana, compared with 19 percent from out of state. She expects a similar number this year.

After four straight years of growth, the increase in visitation is to be expected, Kirkeby said.

"It's not really surprising to us," she said. "But the numbers are so high - that's a little surprising."

Overall, Montana State Parks visitation is up 25 percent in the past decade.

Visitation at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks is also up so far this year, with a nearly 14 percent increase at Yellowstone and about an 11 percent increase at Glacier, according to National Park Service statistics.

In Glacier, the increase comes despite Going-to-the-Sun Road being closed for 2 1/2 weeks because of a wildfire.


Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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