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By Ryan Sokoloski
Montana State Parks Manager 

Day trips and stay-cations


Over the past dozen years, perhaps you have noticed an increase in the use of the term “stay-cation.” It seems every industry has been tapping into this idea; a high-end automobile manufacturer has a current commercial airing that mentions (among their sales pitch) “Day Trips are Better than Day Dreams.” Although I am not in the market for a new car, I certainly can agree with that tag line.

Ever since I was in high school, I have wanted to visit and travel the Outback of Australia. Unfortunately for me, I am really no closer to achieving that goal today than I was back then and the near future opportunity to take this trip continues to look bleak. I am okay with the very likely prospect that I likely will never get to see the Outback. I might never see a wild Kangaroo in its native habitat, a bigger loss for me is missing out on “Waltzing my Matilda among the Billabongs” (some of you readers might need to research that simple phrase to better understand what I mean).

Someday I might get that opportunity for that grand adventure, but until then, let me tell you about some of the really cool things I have done. I have eaten the best beans in the world at Ingomar, Montana. I have had several cups of the world’s best coffee in historic uptown Butte, Montana at 6 a.m. I have been to Brockway Dairy Days. I have played in the cool waters of Bighorn Canyon and Yellowtail Dam. I have been to the Charlie Russell Museum. I have stood atop Pompey’s Pillar and touched some of the very rocks touched by William Clark on July 25, 1806. I have been to a Powwow on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. And I have explored and worked in businesses and homes that once were the capital of the Montana Territory in Bannack, Montana. Sure, I want to experience the outback of Australia but some of my amazing Montana adventures are just as significant to me. I have had many incredible day trips and stay-cations in my home state.

The concept of a stay-cation has been around since the early 2000’s but it became a more common term in 2008 when gas and fuel took dramatic jumps in cost and suddenly peoples’ annual incomes could not keep pace with fuel inflation and they were left with fewer options for vacations. Almost overnight a family of four was no longer able to take a $10,000+ trip to a distant cartoon-based theme park. Instead they opted to experience the best things in our neighborhoods, county and state. People started to spend less money on an extravagant “once in a lifetime” trip and instead started to make smaller trips where they came to appreciate more of their own hometown or home state.

Today, we are adjusting our travel and vacation plans due to the coronavirus pandemic. Regardless of how you feel about the best safety measures we should, or should not, be taking to protect our community friends and family, I think we all agree that safety is important.

Over the past couple months, I have been asked by many people in our community, “Are you seeing quite a few out-of-staters in the parks and campgrounds?” My answer to that question on many people’s mind is, no. We do not keep a yearly count of how many residents versus non-residents. However based upon my years of work and experience, I would estimate the current figure to be somewhere near 85% resident and 15% non-resident over the course of any year.

The overwhelming number of campers and recreationists at both Placid Lake State Park and Salmon Lake State Parks are actually coming from the same places they have historically come from: other parts of Missoula County or other area communities including Helena, Great Falls, Butte, Anaconda, Deer Lodge, Hamilton and Conrad. I think that is pretty special. In some ways, its exactly what our parents and grandparents intended when they set aside some of Montana’s most prized locations to become state parks.

Montana State Parks has a mission statement and the first sentence of that mission statement reads, “Our Mission is to preserve and protect our state’s cultural, natural and recreational heritage for the benefit of our families, communities, and local economies.” We are delivering on that mission statement and it makes me proud to know for over 20 years now, I have been privileged to be part of that effort. After all, the evidence of our park use does indicate that it is our families and our communities that overwhelmingly benefit from our state parks. And our businesses are strengthened when our local economy benefits from users who come to our community from our neighboring communities to eat in our restaurants; buy drinks, snacks and food from our grocery stores and fuel stations or a souvenir from a local retailer.


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