Throughout our country’s history, we have faced challenges which have summoned the spirit of American grit and ingenuity to find solutions and create new opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was one of these historic challenges. This dangerous and unprecedented health crisis disrupted virtually every aspect of society. However, the Maryland Park Service faced this challenge head-on and quickly adjusted operating procedures to adhere to protocols recommended by the Maryland Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control so we could maintain access to state parks.
As we met these challenges, Marylanders flocked to state parks in record numbers, looking for a safe haven in nature as an escape from the day-to-day stress and isolation of the pandemic. Consequently, 2020 surpassed all previous attendance records, with 21.5 million people visiting parks across the state -- a 45% increase over 2019, which was, itself, a record-breaking year!
Despite the changes required to adjust to the new reality this year, the MPS adhered to our core mission and developed innovative strategies to keep parks open and communicate with visitors. For example, park staff introduced self-check-in methods for campers, conducted seasonal employee interviews virtually, and produced over two dozen “Virtual Ranger Experience” videos to convey interpretive and educational messages, which would normally be held in-person. Additionally, the “Create Your Own State Park” program was launched in spring of 2020 to encourage people from across the state to design their own park-like oasis.
In a year defined by uncertainty, the Maryland Park Service rose to the challenge, not only by providing a safe respite for visitors, but also by pushing ahead with conservation and capital projects, as well as expanding and improving our trail system.