National park attendance, student activities, reflect outdoor habits adopted in the pandemic

Minnesota DNR is using technology to bring Minnesotans outdoors again. Photo: Jim Brekke via Flickr (photo outside of Jim).

By Borjana Alia, Abigail Comar, Mackenzie DeRaad, Camryn Evans, Sierra Moore, Emile Rizk, Kyle Wasielewski

Visits to national and state parks in the Great Lakes Basin surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park recorded 2.8 million visitors in 2020, and Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore also recorded 1.2 million visitors in 2020.

Additionally, according to some students at Michigan State University, the pandemic has caused individuals to decide to spend more time outdoors, and some students have turned to outdoor adventures since pandemic-related restrictions ended. I agree that we are reducing it.

Before COVID-19, fisheries and wildlife student Ben Lapay spent most of his time outdoors.

Ben Rapai does what he loves: working outdoors at Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.Image: Mackenzie Dellard

After being kicked out of the house by his parents and out of boredom, Lapai spent more time fishing, kayaking and hiking than he did pre-pandemic. He also took up foraging as his new hobby during lockdown when he wasn’t attending classes on Zoom.

Similarly, Peter Kaiser, a student of political theory and constitutional democracy, has always enjoyed the outdoors since childhood, running, hiking, swimming, and helping out in his family’s garden.

Kaiser’s passion for the outdoors was reignited when the pandemic hit. “I had to say thank you along with my COVID mates and roommates,” he said.

Finance major Evan Borth spent most of his pre-pandemic time on the soccer field kicking a ball with his friends.

When the pandemic left his friends no longer around, he was forced to return to Fenton, Michigan, where his family was his only source of social interaction.

While playing with his brother and sister, Bose found his family shared his competitive streak.

Meanwhile, first-grader Alicia Hu had little interest in the outdoors until lockdown began.

Now she has a new appreciation for what nature has to offer. “I found more solidarity in nature. I started going running and biking outdoors.”

Many Michigan residents spending more time outdoors contributed to the surge in visits to state parks during the pandemic.

What could be better than checking out a nearby state park?

Detroit’s Belle Isle State Park will see a record 5.2 million visitors in 2021, and Mackinac Island State Park will reach 200,000 in 2021.

Observers can see MSU students becoming more active on campus, biking, walking, and hiking, as the pandemic has made them more respectful of nature.

But during the pandemic, an appreciation for the outdoors didn’t come naturally to everyone.

Environmental zoology student Anthony Turner spent a lot of time outdoors camping, fishing and running before lockdown.

Anthony Turner has returned to normal outdoor activity levels after pandemic restrictions eased.Image: Abigail Komar

Turner’s time outdoors dwindled when the pandemic forced schools to go online. He stayed indoors most of the time and was no longer able to participate in outdoor extracurricular activities such as cross-country and Boy Scouts.

Now that restrictions have eased, some students are reverting to their old habits. For Turner, that means spending more time outdoors hiking and fishing again.

Kaiser, on the other hand, wanted to return to living indoors. All the time he was outside during lockdown, he felt himself “could have been outdoors.”

Meanwhile, many students maintain new relationships with the outdoors.

Ben Rapai is an active member of the MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Club and continues to fish, hike, kayak and forage.

“I wasn’t looking for mushrooms until midway through COVID, but I’ll probably go looking for them once a week to use them in new recipes,” Lapay said.

Cara Zahnleuter, a supply chain management major, was walking, hiking, playing frisbee, and swimming at the beach before the pandemic.

Now that restrictions are less stringent, she continues to be active outdoors.

Bose has a better understanding of outdoor activities and better relationships with siblings.

“They actually played much better football than I thought,” Bose said. “I really enjoy being with my family and friends while doing what I love.”

Ultimately, MSU students’ outdoor activity levels have been affected in many ways by the pandemic. With more or less time spent outdoors, adjustments have been made.

This same sentiment is reflected in the strong spike in visits to national forests in 2020 and the still-high attendance levels on public lands post-pandemic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *