In early 2020, we entered unprecedented times across the globe. Shutdowns, stay at home orders, quarantines, restrictions, and a virus caught countless people off guard and threw off many, if not all, people’s schedules and plans for 2020. We often, at the end of each year, joke about how bad the offgoing year had been and we look forward to the upcoming year but this year has been no joke. 2020 truly was a rough year. There’s no telling if 2021 will get better quickly but we can certainly hope!

2020 forced many people to get creative with their schedules, activities, routines, hobbies, coping strategies, socialization, etc. One bit of creativity that stood out for North Dakota was the use of our State Park system. People built it into their schedules, activities, routines, hobbies, coping strategies, socialization, etc. An all encompassing concept that helped many North Dakotans through 2020 involved our state’s history, natural beauty, and active transportation opportunities! A big win for the state, for the people of North Dakota, for conservation education and efforts, and for active transportation awareness.

A record number of people visited North Dakota’s state parks this year according to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation website. Compared to 2019, there was a 35% increase in campsite nights this camping season, which is typically May through August. It is also worth noting that the parks saw an extended camping season greatly surpassing August and going deep into October with September seeing a 173% increase in visitors and October seeing a 339% increase! All 13 parks across the state experienced an increase which was also noted to include many first-time campers. This is phenomenal news coming out of our park system as it is a fantastic way to get outdoors and enjoy nature in a similar (modernized) way that our beloved Theodore Roosevelt once did in the state we call Legendary (and home). Personally, my wife, our greyhound Rosie (also our model in the featured photo), and I were part of the large group that found peace and comfort in the parks this year.

Living in Fargo, we bounce back and forth between MN and ND for camping and were able to explore 3 new North Dakota parks this year with visits to Turtle River, Fort Ransom, and Grahams Island state parks. This adds to our list that also includes Fort Stevenson and Sully Creek. We had absolutely great experiences this year at all 3 for various reasons. Our first trip of the season was to Turtle River State Park prior to Memorial Day weekend which is typically the start of our camping year. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for it and we could not wait to be able to get outdoors and out of our apartment during the pandemic. It was such a wonderful escape to be able to find a way to safely recreate and enjoy the beautiful spring weather as early in the year as we did. Our second ND park visit was to Fort Ransom over Memorial Day weekend. That particular week was actually supposed to be our long-awaited honeymoon to Italy but the trip was cancelled for obvious reasons. To help us accept this, we booked a site at the park and enjoyed a weekend of hiking, relaxing, and cooking makeshift Italian meals over the campfire. We then made several camping trips over to MN before finally getting back on the west side of the Red River to end our camping season at Grahams Island State Park. After a September camping trip we had actually packed up and called it a year before deciding to break out the camping gear again and take advantage of the great October weather. We are tent campers so getting the opportunity to squeeze one last October camping trip in before it got too cold was something we were very thankful for!

We, like many, found a great way to take our minds off the craziness that is 2020 through utilizing our state parks. The opportunities at these parks are endless as you have hiking, biking, and horseback trails. There is also primitive, walk-in, or modern camping. And most importantly, there is fresh air and serenity within our parks. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” This is the absolute truth and I believe many North Dakotans experienced some piece of that this year while exploring our great state. Active Transportation has many uses and although we tend to focus on commutes, it’s best not to forget about the leisurely side of it. Hiking, walking, or bicycling our parks is a great way to utilize active transportation within your lifestyle and we have the opportunities within our state to do so.

If you’ve been out exploring this year, we’d love to hear from you. Where did you go? What did you do and experience? What did you see? What was your favorite memory you made? What would you recommend to other active transportation enthusiasts? What impact did our parks have on you? Any feedback would be amazing! There’s no knowing what 2021 has in store for us but whatever that may be, keep the state parks and active transportation in mind. With that said, remember to make your reservations early because you’re far from alone with having plans to visit the state parks! I’ll leave you with one last quote from the Cowboy President, “wild flowers should be enjoyed unplucked where they grow.” So always remember, wherever your adventures may lead you, take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Happy exploring,
Blayne Waselk
NDATA Secretary