Maryland state parks maintaining record pace of visitors

Assateague State Park.

Assateague State Park.

The view from Sandy Point State Park.

Washington Monument State Park, Boonsboro, Maryland.

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Maryland State Parks remain a huge draw for residents looking to relax and recharge as they visit beaches, mountains, meadows and woodlands in the park system.

The parks reached peak popularity in 2020, with more than 21 million visitors gravitating to the great outdoors in 75 parks across the state. Park officials said the coronavirus pandemic fueled that increase, and it hasn’t fallen back yet.

Maryland State Parks Superintendent Nita Settina said the parks are on track to come close to last year’s record-breaking numbers.

“I think a lot of people discovered these places and they are coming back,” Settina said.

The only thing that tends to discourage visitors is the kind of record rain the state experienced in 2018, she said.

Even as people flock to the parks, only one requires reservations: On weekends from May 1 until Labor Day, reservations are required at the Killgore Falls and Falling Branch area of Rocks State Park, in Jarrettsville.

The park system is considering expanding reservations at some of the busiest parks next year, although Settina said “nothing is set in stone yet.”

Settina says visiting during the week is one way to avoid finding parks closed due to crowds. She also recommends following the @MDStateParks Twitter feed, which they update throughout the day, offering alerts as to when a given park is filled up and turning people away, as well as when it reopens for visits.

Another tip: When families or large groups caravan to the park, it’s not uncommon for part of the group to be kept outside the gates while vehicles at the front of the line get in.

“If you come to the parks, try to come together,” Settina advised.

While Settina said the park system wants more people to enjoy the outdoors, they do have to consider the impact on the land, as well as facilities such as picnic tables, grills and bathrooms: “You get that many people hiking and biking on your trails in all kinds of weather [and] they need to be maintained just like anything else.”

Settina said there are reminders asking visitors to “leave no trace,” making sure that trash isn’t left behind. “We launched a campaign called ‘Keep Your Parks Green — Keep It Clean,’ to promote outdoor ethics — simple ways that people can recreate a little more lightly on the land.”

People aren’t the only species entering the parks in big numbers: Cicadas are visiting in droves. The staff love them, Settina said, both as fascinating natural visitors and menu items.

“One of my park rangers — she’s a really good cook, and she’s cooking with them,” Settina said with a laugh. “I told her she’s a lot braver than I am!”

You can find a state park on the Department of Natural Resources website. You can also find more information on admission fees and reservations:, as well as state park programs.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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