Traffic jams caused by outdoor vacation seekers around the Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park complex are not uncommon on holiday weekends.
With perfect weather forecast for this Memorial Day weekend, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources expects parking lots in the area to fill up by noon each day.
Likewise, Montrose Harbor may run out of parking by early morning on holiday weekends.
But it made me wonder about the larger question of whether the pandemic’s rise in people enjoying the outdoors continues. The provisional answer is yes. But it will probably take another year to fully grasp its impact.
This spring, John Kukrich emailed about Naperville’s foxes and thought: Now that things are back to normal, do you think more people are using forest reserves?”
Based on the outdoor spots I regularly visit, I would say yes. In Chicago, Montrose Harbor and Palmisano Park are each visited by him at least once a month. State location of Kankakee River SP and Des Plaines State Fish Wildlife Area at least monthly, several times a year to Starved Rock/Mathiesen. Vollmer Road Grove, Cook County Forest Reserve, every few weeks. Held monthly at Will County Forest Reserve Gooddenau Grove Nature Preserve and Monee Reservoir.
In terms of usage, the most notable increase came from FPD in DuPage County.
“We have seen a steady increase in general visitor numbers since the outbreak of COVID-19,” communications director Beth Sillot emailed. “Before COVID-19, we were averaging more than 4 million visitors a year, now we are averaging 6.”
There are different situations in the Chicago Park District. While the number of programming (summer camps, etc.) has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, 606 usage is still growing significantly, with communications director Michelle Lemon saying, “In 2019, there will be approximately 1.18 million 3,000, reaching 1.34 million in 2021.”
Cook County Forest Reserve used website traffic and the use of interactive maps to determine interest.
“This number was much higher in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic than in previous years,” public relations director Karl Vogel said in an email. “While not quite there, it is still higher than the pre-pandemic year. Comparing 2019 and 2020, website sessions increased by 47% and online maps increased by 187%. Website sessions increased by 26% from 2019 to 2022. [for the online map] 62% increase. ”
Due to the annual nature of fishing and hunting licenses, it will likely take several years before a proper decision is made. Early indications are that hunting has fallen to pre-pandemic levels, while fishing appears to be retaining some of the pandemic-induced rise.
Lisa Sands, Natural Resources Coordinator at Starved Rock/Matthiessen, gave out-of-town visitors this weekend on a hands-on level: Overcome heavy traffic and busy trails in the late morning and afternoon. Alternatively, you can plan to arrive after 4pm when most visitors leave later in the day (trails are open until sunset at 8pm and restrooms close at 5pm) . …
“Plan B is also wise in case the park is closed to traffic further. ) and other places in the region.”