Overnight camping at state parks to resume May 15 with some precautions

A car enters Curt Gowdy State Park Thursday, April 30, 2020 west of Cheyenne. Gov. Mark Gordon declared this week that Curt Gowdy and other Wyoming State Parks will partially reopen to overnight camping for Wyoming residents beginning May 15. Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

CHEYENNE – Wyoming residents will be able to resume overnight camping at state parks starting May 15, more than six weeks after it was banned due to COVID-19.

While day hiking has remained open, overnight camping at the 12 state parks has been closed since late March. With the partial reopening in a couple weeks, some precautions will be implemented to prevent any spread of the virus.

Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Director Darin Westby, in a press conference Thursday afternoon with Gov. Mark Gordon, said his department has begun the process of hiring its seasonal park employees.

“I wish I could flip a switch and we could get camping open this weekend,” Westby said. "However, due to this pandemic, due to the budget crisis that we're going through, what we didn't want to do is hire a bunch of seasonal (workers) ... and then have to lay those people off.”

With the green light on the reopening plan, the department will be ramping up hiring in the coming weeks.

For the time being, all camping at the parks will require reservations, though visitors can also try getting a reservation upon arrival. Only approved, single-unit campsites will be available.

Additionally, some campsites will be closed in order for visitors to practice social distancing, and no more than 10 people will be allowed on a site. Westby mentioned the setup will allow parks officials to “ensure that only in-state residents can make that reservation.”

“We don’t want to happen what happened earlier (when) we were the only campgrounds open in the region," Westby said. "We were inundated with out-of-state visitors coming to our campgrounds."  

Cabins and yurts will also be available for rental, though only Friday through Sunday. Meanwhile, all playgrounds, group shelters, group campsites and some indoor facilities will remain closed to the public.

Westby emphasized the importance of all campers and hikers continuing to follow recommended social distancing guidelines. Otherwise, they risk killing the fun for everybody. 

"If we find that the planning guidelines we put in place are not being adhered to, we will be forced to modify and possibly restrict camping and possibly other recreation opportunities," Westby said. "We're entrusting you as a citizenry to ensure that you're going to do your part, and we really appreciate you doing that."

Westby said his department's next step will be to consider reopening the state's historic sites. 

At other popular spots in Wyoming, camping remains limited. Recreation sites are closed in Medicine Bow National Forest, and no date has been set for the reopening of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

During Thursday's press conference, Gordon said he and the governors of Montana and Idaho "have been in near constant conversation about opening that up as quickly as we possibly can."

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik, who also provided an update during the press conference, said his department’s suspension on sales of nonresident fishing licenses will remain effective until May 8. As soon as the state lifts its 14-day quarantine directive for visitors, which could be as soon as next week, Nesvik said sale of the nonresident daily and five-day licenses will resume.

Set for a partial reopening of businesses starting Friday, Wyoming has seen seven deaths caused by COVID-19, along with 373 recoveries out of 559 confirmed and likely COVID-19 cases, as of Thursday afternoon.