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William Cox, left, and his daughter, Savannah Cox, are seen fishing at Mississinewa Lake in this photo from June 30, 2015. The lake has seen an increase of at least 15% in entrance revenue compared to 2020, officials say.

PERU — Mississinewa Lake is seeing record-shattering crowds visit the state recreational area this year following a huge spike in attendance last year during the pandemic.

Assistant Property Manager Jordan Epp said entrance revenue at the park so far is up at least 15% compared to 2020, when day entrances also hit a then-record by increasing 20% from 2019.

Epp said that over the last two years, entrance revenue has increased well over 30%, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra income.

For the first time, the park’s more than 400 camping sites have been sold out every weekend since opening earlier this year, he said, and the number of people boating on the lake has also skyrocketed.

“Our boating crowds are off the charts,” Epp said. “Overall, our property use is much, much higher.”

That’s especially true at the public beach area, where huge crowds gather on most weekends.

“I’ve never seen our beaches as full as this,” Epp said. “It’s not uncommon on a Saturday when it’s warm out to see 1,500 to 2,000 people down at the beach.”

The massive crowds hitting Mississinewa Lake are part of a statewide trend. Indiana Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Bortner said in June that overall income at state parks is up 11% from last year, when there was about $2.8 million in revenue. As of June 2, that number sat at $3.1 million, he told WFYI.

Bortner said more people are also buying state park annual passes. State parks have brought in $1.7 million in annual passes this year, compared to $1.6 million last year.

Epp said Mississinewa is now looking to hire people to help keep up with the crowds, but it’s been tougher this year to find people to work. He said that he didn’t know if that was due to the national worker shortage, but noted he’s never seen so many people not show up for their job interview.

“We’d love to have people apply,” he said. “Even if you don’t think you’re qualified, that shouldn’t be a reason not to apply, because a lot of people don’t realize they have really good work experience.”

Epp said that, in the end, the steep spike in park attendance is a good sign that people are reconnecting to the outdoors, and COVID-19 may have played a part in that.

“As negative as COVID was, it kind of put people back in touch with getting outside and experiencing wildlife and swimming and campfires,” he said. “It’s gotten people outside a little bit. That’s been one positive that we’ve seen at Mississinewa.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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