Huron-Clinton Metroparks see 2020 attendance surge

2021 annual passes now on sale

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published November 17, 2020

 Signs like this one, seen at the splash pad at Kensington Metropark, helped visitors know how far they should social distance while using Huron-Clinton Metroparks in 2020.

Signs like this one, seen at the splash pad at Kensington Metropark, helped visitors know how far they should social distance while using Huron-Clinton Metroparks in 2020.

Photo provided by Huron-Clinton Metroparks

METRO DETROIT — With outdoors seemingly safer places to have distanced gatherings than inside, Huron-Clinton Metroparks saw attendance increase this year as metro Detroit residents looked for a place to safely get out of the house.

“We were really surprised and pleased at just how busy it was here this summer,” said Gary Hopp, interim Eastern District Superintendent for Huron-Clinton Metroparks and park manager for Stony Creek and Wolcott Mill. “It was really interesting. We kind of went from having a lot of questions to, all of a sudden, having to manage the number of people that were coming out.”

The Metroparks, on average, saw a 22.5% increase in usage in 2020 compared with 2019 attendance year to date. Attendance at some points earlier in the year was even higher, with attendance in May 44.6% higher compared with May 2019.

“This season was an interesting one for pretty much the entire world,” acknowledged Danielle Mauter, chief of marketing and communications for Huron-Clinton Metroparks. “The difference for parks is, we saw people flock to outdoor spaces as safe havens to social distance, get outside.”

Those numbers came even as the parks limited attendance to 60% of park capacity.

Facilities at the parks such as restrooms, pools and nature centers were closed earlier in the pandemic but were able to reopen slowly, with the exception of nature centers. And even though the golf season got off to a slow start, Huron-Clinton Metroparks saw a 12% increase overall for golf in 2020.

“With this unusually warm weather in November, (there were) 5,000 rounds of golf played in the first nine days of November,” Mauter said. “Compared with 500 this time last year.”

Across the Metroparks system, temporary yard signs were posted encouraging social distancing and explaining just how far apart six feet is. They also posted real-time updates on their website and social media, and changed voicemail messages, to alert users to how crowded certain parks were.

Most pools and splash pads were able to reopen for the summer, along with beaches, restrooms, disc golf and golf courses. Nature center programming resumed in the fall, albeit outdoors.

Hopp said they worked to keep the number of vehicles entering the parks at 60% during the beginning of the pandemic, but they couldn’t do much to police the nature trails where people could enter outside the park. Once the weather warmed, he said, the emphasis shifted to the beaches as more and more people began to come to Stony Creek.

“We were actually closing the park down at times because the park had met its 60% level,” he said.

While Stony Creek would hit 100% capacity in the past during large events like the fireworks, Hopp said it was surprising when the park began to hit 60% capacity on a midweek afternoon.

“It was that daily usage (that) was so much higher,” he said. “That outdoor space to safely get together and enjoy each other’s company at more of a distance. It’s not being inside the structure.”

Biking, kayaking and golfing were popular activities for 2020, and Hopp said he’s hopeful the increased enthusiasm for the parks will continue into 2021.

“People may have come out for the first time in many years (and) realize the value, what the Metroparks have to offer,” he said. “This was a very unusual year. I don’t expect those numbers to carry forward, but we are hopeful we’ll see an increase just having that many people exposed to the Metroparks.”

“When gyms were closed down, certainly part of the influx that we saw was people getting their workouts in outside and we’ve seen that carry forward even as gyms have opened,” Mauter said.

Those looking to get a workout without stepping foot inside a gym took advantage of the Fit Trail at Stony Creek Metropark, Hopp said.

The 20 outdoor exercise stations along different loops leading out of Eastwood Beach allow users to do circuit training outdoors, using gravity and body weight to perform the exercises.

Mauter said the Metroparks have plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities this winter, as well, from trails, to a sledding hill and ice fishing at Lake St. Clair Metropark and cross country ski rentals at Stony Creek. Fat tire biking on the mountain bike trails is also a popular cold-weather activity.

“We are expecting it to be a little bit busier,” she said. “Get outside and build those endorphins.”

Users have also been enjoying the trail system at Wolcott Mill Metropark, Hopp said. Although the buildings at the park are closed, visitors can still see some of the animals as they walk around outside. Winter activities, such as Heritage Holidays at Wolcott Mill, will begin soon, but with a limited number of spots available to encourage social distancing.

“None of us know what to expect for 2021,” Mauter said. “We are kind of planning for worst-case scenarios and best-case.”

Huron-Clinton Metropark annual passes are on sale for $35 each for vehicle or boat passes that are valid through the end of 2020 and throughout all of 2021. Beginning Jan. 1, the prices will go back up to the regular price of $40. For more information, visit www.metroparks.com.