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Pandemic leads to park surge

Facility sees attendance uptick since outbreak
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
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Leader photo by CALEB DANIEL

Sydney Anderson (left) and Edjim Beaver enjoy a date on the lake Monday morning at Lincoln Parish Park. The park reported an increase in admissions in the initial months of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As the parish, state and country continue to slowly emerge from measures put in place to hinder the spread of COVID-19, many trends that developed during the initial stay-at-home orders are now being discovered.

One of those was a trend toward more park visitation as crowds and indoor gatherings began to be regulated. That includes the Lincoln Parish Park, where Park Director James Ramsaur said daily admissions and campsite rentals increased significantly in the wake of the statewide stay-at-home order in mid-March.

“It was crazy. On a given Saturday, you may see maybe one or two kayaks in the water pre-COVID,” he said. “I remember this one Saturday in April, I counted eleven.”

During April, the only full month under the stay-at-home order, admissions at the parish park saw a roughly 29% increase compared to the same month in 2019. Then May brought an increase of over 36% in tent and RV campsite rentals year-to-year.

All in all, April through June admissions went up by 1,746 people compared to last year, and campsite rentals went up by just under 600 in the same span.

Ramsaur said he attributes the boost in attendance in part to the nature of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home decree. The order listed “engaging in outdoor activity” as one of only six things that qualified as essential reasons to leave the home.

“When there was a list of things you couldn’t do, this was one of the things you could do,” Ramsaur said. “We surmised that most people don’t have access to private property, so parks would be where you could get out in nature.”

The park offers several miles of biking and hiking trails, including a walking path around Hoogland Lake. There’s also a children’s playground and a beach open during the summer months, as well as newly upgraded RV camping sites with full hookups and primitive tent sites.

Of all its amenities, only pavilion rentals have been closed since the pandemic began. Ramsaur said a large part of the attendance increase has come from families looking for a safe way to get out of the house.

The extra attention has led to a muchneeded financial boost for the park, which in addition to its own admissions is currently funded in part by a share of hotel/motel tax revenues that plunged considerably when the coronavirus shutdown began.

In his budget report to the Lincoln Parish Police Jury, which owns the park, at its latest meeting earlier this month, Parish Treasurer Chris Hyde said through the end of July, the park had already accrued some 97% of what had been budgeted for admissions revenues for the entire year.

This increase has kept the park’s overall revenues on track with what was budgeted, despite the dip in hotel/motel tax revenues, which Hyde said is now on its way back up.

Ramsaur said he hopes the attendance boost during the initial months of the pandemic will translate to a sustained increase in awareness.

“We’re extremely hopeful that this exposed them to what we offer out here, and as a result of that they’ll be repeat customers,” he said.