In 2021, Oregon State Parks welcomed more than 3 million first-time campers

Oregon State Park campgrounds were packed in 2021 as locals and tourists left the comforts of their homes to sleep under the stars among evergreen forests and beside the gentle roar of the ocean.

The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation reported a total of 3,026,756 RV nights last year, far exceeding pandemic-affected 2020 numbers and eclipsing the 3 million mark for the first times, the department said.

In state park parlance, an “overnight camper” is a camper who stays overnight at a campsite. A family of four spending two nights in a tent, for example, would equal eight nights in a motorhome. And since virtually all campgrounds saw their numbers drop during statewide park closures in 2020, it’s more helpful to compare recent numbers to those of 2019, when park campgrounds of State were in the midst of a huge surge in popularity.

Most of the growth in 2021 came on the Oregon Coast, which saw a 9% increase in RV overnight stays over 2019 – the only region in the state to see an overall increase Last year. More than a third of that increase came from the sprawling Fort Stevens State Park campground outside of Astoria, which alone saw 343,485 camper nights last year, although more than any other.

A camper prepares dinner as the sun begins to set at Harris Beach State Park on Oregon’s southern coast.Jamie Hale / The Oregonian

Milo McIver State Park

A tent at a small campground in Milo McIver State Park, nestled on over 950 acres of land near Estacada.Jamie Hale / The Oregonian

Parks Department spokesman Chris Havel said the data shows a continuing trend of midweek camping in the summer, as well as weekend and vacation camping in the fall, winter and spring. The numbers also continue a significant increase in camping in state parks that began in 2012, a trend park officials consider a victory.

“Hooray for the people who continue to realize that enjoying the outdoors is good for the body and the mind, and good for the individual and the community.” Havel said in an email Wednesday. “As people continue to look for places to experience in our centenary, we hope they branch out to look for places new to you and take the time to be well prepared.”

The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022, marking the occasion with special events that could draw even more people to parks across the state. The National Park Service’s centennial celebration in 2016 led to a record number of visitors to the national park that year.

In state park campgrounds on the Oregon Coast, securing campsites could be competitive for the centennial this summer — at least if last year’s numbers are any indication. Almost all state park campgrounds on the coast saw more RV nights in 2021 than in 2019, and while the most popular campgrounds got a bit more popular, the strongest Percentage increases occurred at two of the smaller locations: Umpqua Lighthouse and Humbug Mountain State Parks.

Smaller campgrounds in eastern, central and southern Oregon also saw big increases last year, continuing a 2020 trend that saw more people seek out more remote getaways in the middle of the pandemic. Some of the least-visited state park sites in recent years have seen huge jumps in RV nights in 2021, including Red Bridge State Wayside and Hilgard Junction State Park outside La Grande, as well as the tiny, isolated Minam State Recreation Area along the Wallowa River, which saw a staggering 254% increase last year, from 5,498 RV nights in 2020 to 19,460 in 2021.

Willamette Valley Campgrounds, meanwhile, saw camping nights down from 2019, in nearly every area. Increases at popular LL Stub Stewart State Park, as well as Columbia River Gorge State Park Campgrounds, were offset by decreases at places like Milo McIver State Parks , Willamette Mission and Detroit Lake.

Some decreases were not necessarily due to unpopularity, but to campground closures that followed wildfires, windstorms and flooding – events that have become a more frequent threat to campers in recent years. years.

The money that has been earmarked for improving Oregon’s state parks will go towards both adding new campsites and putting existing campsites out of harm’s way, as campsites in some parks are currently threatened by eroding cliffs, rising rivers and forest fires. In 2021, the state legislature approved a $50 million bond to upgrade Oregon state parks over the next two years, a plan that will include new campsites in some of the busiest parks. state, in addition to infrastructure and other projects.

This can help reduce crowds at the state’s busiest campgrounds, but not if crowds continue to grow rapidly, an issue the Parks Department said it is monitoring.

“That’s a concern,” Havel said of overcrowding at campgrounds. “Planning, designing and building new venues takes a few years, in some cases longer than the three-year bond limit, so we are always looking for a long-term solution.”

–Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB

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