16.6 million visit Iowa’s state parks in 2020; Lake Manawa, Gull Point top the list

A record 16.6 million visitors frequented Iowa’s state parks in 2020, according to data from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowans turned to the outdoors with indoor activities interrupted or cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Over the last decade, the Iowa DNR saw between 13.7 million and 15.5 million visitors to their state parks yearly. 

The system with 83 parks and forests recorded its 100th anniversary in 2020 just as the coronavirus came to Iowa in March. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended people remain six feet apart and meet outdoors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, making spacious state parks popular destinations. 

Lake Manawa in Council Bluffs topped the list with an estimated 3.2 million visitors. Next came Gull Point near Milford. Big Creek, Backbone and Walnut Woods rounded out the top five.

Coronavirus muddies financial waters for parks

Early in 2020, a movement picked up pace at the Iowa State Capitol to provide more money to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Gov. Kim Reynolds presented the Invest in Iowa Act, which would increase the state sales tax by a penny to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust. It was a move 10 years in the making. In 2010, Iowans voted to create the trust fund through a constitutional amendment, but the fund has never been funded. The governor’s plan would have tweaked the original formula to finance not only water quality and conservation programs but also mental health programs, while cutting income and property taxes.