As demand rises, Maryland’s popular state park system continues to grow

Cunningham Falls State ParkCunningham Falls State Park(Getty Images/iStockphoto/zrfphoto)

Maryland’s popular state parks were once again packed with visitors over Memorial Day weekend — and this year, two additional parks were operating in the system.

Cypress Branch State Park in Kent County and Bohemia River State Park in Cecil County opened in April, totaling 53 state parks in Maryland.

But even with the additional capacity of the new parks, there were cases where visitors were turned away once parking lots filled up throughout the weekend that kicked off the summer travel season.

Maryland State Park Superintendent Nita Settina told WTOP the state “is continuously working to open new state parks.”

This year, lawmakers in Annapolis passed the Maryland Great Outdoors Act, designed to work toward the goal of providing more access to nature.

Maryland House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke was among the lawmakers who sponsored the bill in the House.

“It is the largest single investment in our state parks in state history,” he told WTOP, adding that the legislation will devote $150 million to building new parks, assisting with the upkeep of current parks and adding park ranger positions.

“It’s going to take time to build the new parks we need — which will help reduce overcrowding — but we’re on the right path,” said Luedtke.

Luedtke said an analysis of increasing demand for park access showed a particular interest in central Maryland, around bodies of water.

“They want to picnic, they want to swim, they want to be near water, so that’s driving a lot of the overcrowding,” he said.

According to Luedtke, part of the goal of the legislation “is to expand access and to make sure that our parks can really live up to that mission of being a place where every Marylander can spend time and enjoy the outdoors.”

Luedtke, a Democrat, famously posts about his trips to state parks on social media, and he’s not alone. Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford has worked to promote the state’s park system, and has stated his goal is to visit each of the parks.

“My number now is 64 or 65 state parks that I’ve visited. The lieutenant governor may actually be ahead of me now,” Luedtke said. “It’s exciting to have somebody of his stature as supportive of the parks as he is.”

Settina advises visitors to be aware that on summer weekends, when good weather is in the forecast, they can expect parks — especially those on the water like Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake Bay — to fill up fast.

Park officials provide updates throughout the day on social media on platforms like Twitter.

To avoid being turned away, head for the parks early in the day, Settina said. If you can visit on a weekday, give that a try.

Settina also suggested carpooling, if possible. If you are in a large group in several different cars, make sure you enter the park at the same time.

There have been times when parties of park visitors would arrive with a grill, only to find that the other members of their group — those with the charcoal — had been turned away, she said.

Luedtke and Settina were asked if they have favorite spots in the state park system. Luedtke said he’s especially fond of Patuxent River State Park. Settina said she loves all the state parks, calling them special. Each one finds a way to grab her attention.

“I’m a little bit partial to the mountains, personally, and the old growth hemlock forests at Swallow Falls State Park,” Settina said. “It’s really hard to choose one!”

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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