Officials hope to increase day use at SD state park and recreation areas

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By Andrew Johnson ajohnson@aberdeennews.com

Memorial Day weekend has long served as the unofficial start to summer, when most people look to dust off their camping gear for another season spent outdoors, and officials with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department want outdoors enthusiasts to take advantage of the numerous options available within the state.

The South Dakota state park system includes 13 state parks, 43 recreation areas, five nature areas, one historic prairie, 69 lakeside use areas and 10 marinas and resorts, according to the GFP’s website.

State parks contain 4,190 campsites, 214 camping cabins, seven lodges, 116 comfort stations, 31 fishing docks, 74 playgrounds, 49 beaches, 337 miles of trails, 1,585 miles of snowmobile trails, 549 vault toilets, 11 welcome centers, 124 picnic shelters, 299 boat ramps and 321.6 miles of roads.

If people are looking for a camping site, reservations for spring and summer can be made 90 days in advance, and more than 40 of the state’s park and recreation areas offer reservations via the 90-day window. Reservations can be made online at CampSD.com or by calling 800-710-2267.

Day trip options

While camping immediately comes to mind for most people looking to enjoy state parks, encouraging day trips is becoming more of a focal point for parks and rec staff.

“Day use is one of the things in our current strategic plan that we’re really pushing,” said Lynn Spomer, the GFP visitor services director. “The parks are so busy on the weekends that we’re trying to promote day use to get people out, get them active and healthy.”

If people don’t have proper camping equipment or if their favorite camping spots are already booked, Spomer said planning a day trip is a great option folks should consider.

“We want people to know what our parks can do for families,” she said. “There are so many different things that you can do in a day that you shouldn’t be discouraged if the campsites are booked. For example, there are tons and tons of hiking trails that it doesn’t matter where you go, because there’s always a trail you can hike.”

South Dakota participates in the Track Trails Program, which lists hikes people can take and logs miles, Spomer said. Track Trails include hiking, biking, geocaching and paddling trails, as well as disc golf courses and even backyard adventures. In addition to getting prizes in the mail, participants can also track their adventures in a personalized online nature journal to see trails visited, miles hiked and more. More information on the program can be found online at kidsinparks.com.

Spomer also said there are rental canoes, kayaks and paddle boards at many of the state parks that people can use even if they’re not camping.

“These sports are becoming more and more popular all the time,” she said. “We are purchasing more of these items so we have enough in our parks for people to rent. It is a great way to try out the activity before you go and spend the money on your own items.”

In addition to hiking and water sports, Spomer said many of the parks have outdoor games, such as disc golf, that people enjoy. Some parks also have basketball hoops or trap shooting and rifle ranges, she said.

Planning

Spomer said people should do some homework prior to visiting a park. Or, she said an even better option is to take a trip and see what a particular park has to offer to help make plans for future excursions.

She said a detailed listing of each park’s amenities is available on the GFP’s website, gfp.sd.gov/state-parks, but first-hand experience can go a long way to making future trips more enjoyable. Most state parks have staffers who are happy to answer questions or direct visitors to nearby parks that have additional opportunities, Spomer said.

“We also have our Park Times magazine, which people can request for free, that we put together each year that goes through all of our parks,” Spomer said. “Within the magazine there’s a Come and Play section specifically designed to get people to the parks for day use.”

The magazines can be picked up at any GFP office or by sending an email to parkinfo@state.sd.us.

As with any outdoor adventure, Spomer said people spending a day at a state park should pack plenty of water, sunscreen and bug spray.

“I think the biggest thing if you’re doing a day trip is the health aspect you need to remember,” she said. “Those three items are the big things we tell people to remember, as they will get you through almost anything, but they should also bring some money along for a day pass or park entrance licenses and also for rental equipment.”

To pick where to go, Spomer said she usually turns to her kids for advice.

“For me, when I look to see what my family and I like to do, I always ask the kids what’s fun for them,” she said. “They come up with something unique, and usually one of the parks fits what they want to do. As a parent, it’s fun when the kids look forward to the weekends where they can be themselves for a day and not worry about schoolwork or things like that. It’s a great opportunity for a break and to just be outside.”

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Fitness Passport Challenge

The state Game, Fish and Parks Department’s Fitness Passport Challenge encourages people of all ages to get outdoors and visit state parks, fish hatcheries and the outdoor campus sites in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

A passport book for the program can be picked up at any state park or GFP office. Families can travel the state and visit the areas while participating in healthy activities such as hiking, rock climbing, snowshoeing, birding, swimming, cross-country skiing, hunting or fishing. Visitors can have their passport book stamped and earn prizes for visiting 10, 25, 45 and 65 or more areas.

“Prizes go from water bottles to sweatshirts all the way up to fishing tackle boxes and backpacks,” said Lynn Spomer, GFP visitor services director. “It’s a great way to get out and see all the parks, check things off the list and get their passport stamped. Everybody can have their own book and earn their own rewards.”

For more information, go to gfp.sd.gov/outdoor-learning/passport-challenge.aspx.

The state Game, Fish and Parks Department’s Park Times magazine is updated yearly and serves as a guide visitors can use to plan trips to South Dakota’s park and rec areas. The publication can be picked up at any GFP office or by sending an email to parkinfo@state.sd.us. Courtesy photo
A kayaker enjoys the scenery at Lake Hiddenwood Recreation Area near Selby. Many state park and recreation areas have outdoor equipment for water sports, such as kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, available for rent. Photo courtesy of Carissa Aberle, CaptureDakota.com