Wisconsin State Parks and the COVID-19 Pandemic
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This paper explores how the Wisconsin State Park System has been affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic. First and foremost, we seek to understand how the DNR has changed the park system’s operations, and how visitors’ experiences have been affected by them. From there, other questions are addressed: (2) How have these operational changes complicated the dual and sometimes competing mandates for the DNR to both conserve natural resources and provide recreational opportunities? (3) What has caused record attendance numbers in 2020? And (4) What are the motivations for people to visit Wisconsin’s state parks? The research employed three methods - a survey that was distributed amongst 2020 park visitors, observational site visits at a handful of state parks, and an interview with Melissa VanLanduyt, the DNR’s Recreation Partnerships Section Chief. Some of the biggest problems at Wisconsin State Parks in 2020 include environmental vandalism/littering, the temporary closure of 40 park units in April of 2020, capacity closures, limited facilities, a 15% increase in visitation compared to 2019, and social distancing issues. Although these issues are still prominent as of December 2020, the DNR has focused on keeping parks open and maintaining a high quality service for park visitors, all while keeping up with conservation efforts and recreational opportunities.