Tennessee State Parks experience record camping numbers in 2020

SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee State Parks hosted a record number of campers in 2020, as people searched for ways to have fun safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which runs the state park system, June, July and October of 2020 were the top three busiest camping months in state park history.

The trend continued in November, when parks sold 36,000 camping nights. The number is a record for November and more than double the amount sold in 2019.

“We’ve seen unprecedented numbers,” Bledsoe Creek State Park manager Chris Thurman said. Both Thurman and TDEC officials said the record-setting year was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the pandemic and how people are being asked to stay at home, and work from home, and quarantine, they need to get out and get somewhere,” Thurman said.

Thurman also noted that he saw more first-time campers than he usually does, saying he usually is asked to help visitors with newly-bought RVs three or four times a month, but in 2020 that spiked to three or four times a week.

For Tennessee State Parks, the camping crowds mean big money.

“The biggest fear when we had to shut down in April was, ‘what’s the budget going to do? are we going to be in the red?'” Thurman said. “Fortunately for us, and I know a lot of our sister parks, they’re able to stay in the green instead of the red due to the unforeseen increase in camping.”

Thurman said that money can be used for improvements to Bledsoe Creek and other Tennessee State Parks, in an effort to attract even more visitors in 2021.