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Big Sioux Recreation Area seeing big numbers as people venture outside

Argus Leader (Sioux Falls) logo Argus Leader (Sioux Falls) 2 days ago Tom Savage, For the Brandon Valley Challenger
a group of people standing in the grass: Pat and Mike Bender made the day trip to the Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon from Beaver Creek, Minnesota on Wednesday, May 20. © Tom Savage Pat and Mike Bender made the day trip to the Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon from Beaver Creek, Minnesota on Wednesday, May 20.

If the campground at the Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon is any indication, people are ready to get outside after huddling inside for long stretches during the COVID-19 crisis.

The area has been bustling with daytime users, and park supervisor Luke Dreckman said the weekends have been fully booked in the camping area. He said April was above normal for camping reservations.

“I think that’s just because everybody was home with nothing to do and we were open,” Dreckman said. “During the day, it just depends on the weather how busy we get, but I’d say right now everything is about normal.”

a sign in front of a tree: The Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon has seen near capacity camping numbers this spring. © Tom Savage The Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon has seen near capacity camping numbers this spring.

Dreckman said the daytime users saw a real spike several weeks ago when the Brandon city parks were closed. The park is still requiring visitors to follow CDC guidelines, such as social distancing and washing their hands.

But Dreckman said that all of the park’s amenities are open and there’s plenty of room to spread out.

“You can definitely maintain some personal space with hundreds of acres to roam around on,” he said. “A lot of people are clearly taking advantage of that.”

The trend of getting outside is being seen throughout the state, but Gary Keller, executive director of the Southeast South Dakota Tourism Association, said this part of the state is seeing the biggest increase. 

South Dakota is split up into four regions when it comes to tourism, and the Southeast region has grown by 3.6% since 2018, which is a bigger jump that the Black Hills Area grew. There are also the Glacier Lakes and Missouri River regions.

“There’s so much more stuff to do here than 30 years ago,” said Keller, who grew up in nearby northwest Iowa. “That number isn’t surprising to me. There’s certainly a lot of things going on in the Black Hills, but there is a good mix of things to do around here.”

Overall, website traffic to the state’s tourism website has increased 29% in the past week when compared to 2019. It’s an indication that people are feeling the need to get outdoors.

Among all tourism dollars spent in the state, more than 38% is spent in this region. It’s another number that doesn’t surprise Keller, but also one that he said is worth noting.

“That’s pretty big when you consider how big the Black Hills are with Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Deadwood,” he said.

Keller said they are seeing increased travel spending, especially for those planning for trips in September and October. That’s encouraging news to that kind of planning for the fall, Keller said, but he’s also excited about the current visitations to the state parks in this region.

“People are starting to relax a little bit,” he said. “Parks are exploding right now in terms of visitation. People took it pretty seriously to shelter and quarantine. After you’ve done that for a couple of months, you’re just ready to get out.”

The Southeast region of tourism in the state is made up of 14 counties and has 195 members. Brandon members include Tailgators Grill & Bar, Holiday Inn Express, the Brandon Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and Wild Prairie Winery.

“Everyone is making things safe at each park and they want visitors to observe social distancing,” Keller said. “But in Brandon, I think getting out to Big Sioux is probably the safest thing you can do if you want to create distance from other people.”

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Big Sioux Recreation Area seeing big numbers as people venture outside

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