BUFFALO (WNE) — In a year when COVID-19 forced cancellation of many indoor events, wide-open spaces drew unprecedented numbers of vacationers and recreationalists to the Bighorn Mountains and other popular outdoor sites around Johnson County.

From March through December, visitors to the Poison Creek Trail, a Bureau of Land Management site off Hazelton Road, more than doubled in 2020, according to BLM outdoor recreation planner Rachel Woita.

The Middle Fork Special Management Recreation Area was also a popular spot this summer, with visitor numbers up 88% over 2019.

From Mosier Gulch to Gardner Mountain Trail, the only Johnson County BLM recreation site that saw visitor statistics fall this year was Hole in the Wall, with a small dip in numbers.

The bureau's visitation statistics rely on a limited supply of vehicle and trail counters, Woita said, and include some estimates.

In the Bighorn Forest, campground use was up 35% from 2019, according to U.S. Forest Service data.

Jeff Smith, a forest protection officer for the Forest Service, had the chance to see the increase in visitors firsthand.

"(There was) just an increase in people. I mean, a lot of a lot of regulars came up, as far as dispersed camping," Smith said. "I noticed an increase in out-of-state people at the campgrounds.”

He also observed more traffic on hiking and ATV trails.

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