The tourism season started early this year at Scotts Bluff National Monument, something Scotts Bluff National Monument Superintendent Dan Morford said has helped the monument see above average visitation so far this year.
“At Scotts Bluff it was busy and to date, we’re still seeing about 7% above our five-year average for visitation,” Morford told the Gering Courier. “We’ve had good business, but probably not as many foreigners as normal of course because of COVID. We did get a few, but not as many as we normally do.”
Despite that change in global visitors, Morford said they still saw visitors from across the United States in early spring. When the school year concluded, they experienced typical summer traffic that remained consistent throughout the summer months.
Fall tourism looked different than previous years, however the monument remained busy.
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“The fall was interesting because we had different groups there,” Morford said. “We did not see as many of the RV types of groups or fleet vehicles, but yet in the month of October, it was pretty busy for us.”
Numbers have remained steady around seasonal averages throughout the year, with occasional spikes over the weekends or during holidays. Through the end of October, Morford told the Gering Courier Scotts Bluff National Monument recorded 164,369 visitors, which is on average 7% higher than the 5-year average of around 155,000 visitors.
Morford said Agate Fossil Beds National Monument saw similar numbers and constant visitation this summer and fall.
“The one thing I have noticed while looking back over these numbers is we’re still on an upward trajectory of visits of the years, excluding COVID years – which our numbers went crazy because everyone was coming out,” Morford said.
Neither monument has seen a plateau in visitation, with data indicating a slight uptick in visitors across the past five years. However, Morford said visitors have started to explore the monuments earlier in the spring and during holidays.
“I think the season and timing of them may have changed, but the numbers at the end of the year seem to be fairly similar,” he added.
As the year comes to a close, Morford said SBNM has a couple community events scheduled, including a walk on Thanksgiving and Christmas on the Prairie.
The community can walk off Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, Nov. 24, by walking in the monument between sunrise and sunset. Pedestrians can use the summit road as well as paved trails since the monument will be closed and no vehicles will be in the park. Leashed pets can also walk on the trails, but owners are reminded to clean up pet waste and dispose of it in receptacles.
SBNM will also participate in Christmas on the Prairie on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be kids’ activities, punch and cookies.
“That’s our last big one of the year,” he said. “Hopefully the weather stays nice and as families are out and about, we encourage them to come visit and our other attractions that are also doing programming in the area as well.”
The event will coincide with Legacy of Plains’ event.
Morford said he and his team are planning programming at Agate and Scotts Bluff monuments for next summers. They are exploring options to expand programming, with official details to be released in mid-January.
“I’m really happy with our visitation, with our programming we had in both parks – Scotts Bluff and Agate – this year,” he said. “We’re looking at doing additional things and some different things than we’ve done before.”
This past year, Morford said well attended events at Agate and Scotts Bluff were the teepee raising and talks with Chief Darrell Red Cloud and the back country tour led by Matt Solomon. The turnouts at those events will be part of the team’s discussion as they brainstorm events for the future. Morford noted they want to add events that are kid-oriented for families to come out as well as different events to reach other groups.
“I and my staff at both parks, we are the stewards of the park,” Morford said. “We are here for the parks and for all people. It’s their national parks and our role is to help teach our visitors and locals on different facets of the park.”
Winter hours for Scotts Bluff National Monument are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and for Agate Fossil Beds are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.