As U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Missouri State Parks (MSP) close most non-day-use services due to coronavirus, spring’s rainy, overcast conditions might divert most campers from thinking about the fun they might be missing. But the cloudy, financial impact to Missouri, resulting from the loss of millions of dollars in fees, tourism, goods and services, will likely be felt indefinitely.
MSP announced on Tuesday it will temporarily close all campgrounds and lodging March 27-April 30. The closure includes campgrounds, park-run lodging and concessionaire-run lodging. The parks’ day-use areas will remain open to the public, including boat ramps and trails. MSP operates 91 state parks and historic sites throughout Missouri.
Mike Sutherland, MSP director, said traffic through state park campgrounds usually picks up around mid-April, with the busy season accelerating Memorial Day weekend, lasting through Labor Day.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to open back up to campers soon,” he said. “For now, we’re open to anyone who enjoys the outdoors, whether they’re enjoying our trails, fishing or picnicking.”
Sutherland emphasized that trails, including horseback riding and ORV trails such as those found at St. Joe State Park, will still be open during the day.
He added that traffic actually had been busier than expected at some parks.
“We’ve actually seen, even though people should be staying closer to home, people traveling some distance to spend time at our parks,” he said. “We’ve had lots of families from all over.”
USACE’s Little Rock District operates 146 public parks and access areas in Arkansas and southern Missouri. USACE began an "orderly shutdown" of its managed recreational properties around the nation on March 20, which affects the Little Rock District’s Clearwater Lake areas in Piedmont to the south, and Table Rock Lake near Branson in the southwest.
USACE is keeping some day use facilities and lake access areas open. Boat ramps in the Kansas City District will remain open, however courtesy docks will not be available, and all areas are subject to evolving conditions related to COVID-19. Decisions may be made locally to close additional areas. Lessees and marina operators can operate unimpeded and should be contacted directly for current hours and conditions regarding COVID-19.
Missouri Department of Tourism Director Steven Foutes said as of now, it’s too soon to tell how the pandemic will affect the state’s revenues.
“The tourism economy is facing significant losses across the state, but it is too early to determine the full impact of these particular restrictions,” he said. “Both the Department of Economic Development and its Division of Tourism have been reaching out to industry leaders to gauge impact on major employers and offer assistance to communities and businesses.”
Candy Hente, executive director of Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she understands the need for extreme caution at this point in the pandemic, even as she worries about how it will affect area businesses.
“Obviously, the coronavirus is going to have a staggering effect on our economy,” she said. “We’re encouraging businesses to come up with their own solutions, and to think about doing business differently. We’re inviting them to take this time to reassess how they’re operating, maybe switching to an online format or offering services differently, and we’re providing webinars on how their businesses can make that switch, while their doors are closed.”
Regarding the park system that proliferates through the region, Hente said while the partial closure of the campgrounds is a disappointing sign of COVID-19’s far-reaching effects, she and others are grateful the parks are still open for brief breaks from quarantine.
“I’m glad the day use areas are still open, I think it’s going to be very important to us as the days and weeks of quarantine pass,” she said. “With social distancing, at least we can still go outside and enjoy beautiful scenery and weather, hiking, family picnics.”
Statewide, according to a 2012 study listed on the state park website, more than 18 million visitors to Missouri state parks and historic sites spend an estimated $778 million, with the overall economic impact of these expenditures estimated at $1.02 billion in sales, $307 million in payroll and related income, and $123 million in federal, state and local taxes. The study estimated visitors’ expenditures support 14,535 jobs, and that for every dollar spent by the agency to operate the state park system, Missouri’s economy had a $26 return on investment.
Nationally, USACE lakes attract about 270 million recreational visits each year, according to its website. In Fiscal Year 2016, an estimated $10.6 billion was spent by visitors at USACE projects and about 189,000 jobs were supported by USACE lake tourism.
USACE reservations have been cancelled through May 15, “and closures will be reevaluated at that time,” according to its news release May 20. Those with paid reservations will be contacted by email and full refunds will automatically be processed by Recreation.gov with no cancellation fees. USACE says those with reservations should not attempt to contact Recreation.gov to request a refund, as that will lead to a cancellation fee being charged.
A complete list of recreation areas is available at www.CorpsLakes.us. Minimal staffing in some locations may result in slower response times from emergency personnel.
MSP has stated that all fees associated with camping and park-run lodging reservations, including reservation, cancellation and modification fees, beginning the night of March 27, through the night of April 30, will be refunded.
Guests already in the campgrounds were being informed of the change and MSP is working with them to adjust their reservations and on any needed refunds. The call center will contact campers with reservations who have yet to arrive.
For an existing reservation with concessionaire lodging, the following properties should be contacted directly:
- Sam A. Baker State Park, 573-856-4223
- Bennett Spring State Park, 417-532-4307
- Echo Bluff State Park, 844-322-3246
- Lake Wappapello State Park, 573-297-3817
- Meramec State Park, 573-468-6519
- Montauk State Park, 573-548-2434
- Pomme de Terre State Park, 636-222-8602 or 417-852-1031
- Roaring River State Park, 417-847-2330
- Stockton State Park, 417-276-5329
- Thousand Hills State Park, 660-665-7119
- Washington State Park, 636-586-2995
More information can be gotten by emailing Missouri State Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest information on the Missouri State Parks response to COVID-19 can be found at www.mostateparks.com/response.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.
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