Cedar Grove big crowd

A big crowd was on hand at Cedar Grove access on the Current River Sunday, waiting to load up for a float trip. Ozark National Scenic Riverways recorded 1,316,795 people visiting in 2020, compared to 1,221,489 in 2019, up 7.8%.

A week into June, things are looking optimistic for tourism again this year. Last year, amid COVID-19 concerns, Missouri saw an increase in recreational use of public land, and Dent County and the surrounding area was no exception.

“Many of our tourism-related businesses reported that 2020 ended very positive, and they think 2021 is going to be even better,” said Tabatha Utley of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. “Some were seeing more tourists at the end of the 2020 season than they have ever seen in the past, with several tourists making reservations for 2021 before they left our area,” she said. “I have had a few members tell me that their weekday business has already surpassed what they expected to see on the weekends.

“Some have informed me that they are already booked for the season and still receiving calls. A few have expanded services and products to help accommodate the needs of our visitors.”

According to Utley, those businesses that benefit directly from tourists – restaurants, antique stores, campgrounds, canoe rentals, etc. – did the best. However, it was still a tough year for many local businesses.

“From what I am hearing, we think tourism will boom this year,” she said.

Missouri State Parks

Missouri State Parks are practically back to normal with most areas completely open to the public. They have already seen droves of people this year. Masks are not required at Missouri State Parks, but encouraged when social distancing isn’t possible.

As of April 16, park offices around the state opened under normal hours of operation.

Lodging, retail, food operations are open on a limited basis while following social distancing guidelines by the CDC. However, pool operations will remain temporarily closed and some historic sites remain closed to the public. Locally, the Montauk Mill has been closed since April of last year.

Trout season is back strong this year with a daily limit of four fish. Trout tags and fishing permits are required as usual at Bennett Spring, Montauk State Park in Dent County and Roaring River State Park. Daily trout tags are $4 for adults and $3 for 15-year-olds and younger.

Campground operations for Missouri State Parks are pretty much back to normal. Unlike last season, when first-come, first served camping was suspended, reservations are not required at any of the Missouri State Park campgrounds; however, visitors are now able to reserve Missouri State Park campsites up to 12 months in advance, expanding from the previous six-month window.

To make a reservation or view campsites details, photos and availability, go to the reservation website by clicking the "Make a Reservation" link below and start planning your trip today. Reservations may also be made by calling toll free 877-ICampMO (877-422-6766). Printable campground maps are available for your reference by clicking on the "Map" links.

National Park Service

Things remain a bit more stringent on federal land. According to the National Park Service website and per CDC guidelines, “People who are not fully vaccinated (less than two weeks past your final dose) must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. All people, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask on all forms of public transportation and in healthcare settings on DOI (Department of the Interior) lands,” and park rangers are on duty to uphold normal rules and regulations and assist visitors as needed.

Despite COVID-19 requirements, last year was still one of the busier years in recent history. According to Superintendent of Ozark National Riverways Jason Lott, ONSR saw an increase in visitors last year, as 1,316,795 people were recorded visiting ONSR in 2020 compared to 1,221,489 in 2019, up 7.8% year-to-date as of December 2020 compared to the previous year. Those are just the numbers that are statistically quantifiable. There’s no metric to count every person who floats, hikes or camps in a dispersed campground.

“I would speculate, based on having been out there when we are busy, that that metric is low,” said Lott.

“Some people were discovering us for the first time. We had people showing up looking for tent rentals. Some of these people had never camped before and didn’t know they needed to bring their own tents.”

According to Lott, many of 2020’s first-time visitors to ONSR were coming from areas of the country that had more restrictive rules surrounding COVID-19.

“We think they had a great time, and I think they’ll be back, and they’re going to bring their friends,” he said. Lott said that he expects those numbers to persist or increase further in 2021 unless some unforeseen factor intervenes.

“It was good for our local economy,” said Lott. “They bring dollars into our communities. And they (the dollars) tend to stay here and move around in our community. That’s just good economics.”

For more information about state parks and historic sites go to mostateparks.com. For Montauk State Park, see montauklodge.com. For additional information about the National Park Service, contact (573) 323-4236 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted on nps.gov and on social media channels. To learn more about the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce call (573) 729-6900 or email chamber@salemmo.com.