Ohiopyle State Park

Diane and John Jeziorski of Baldwin spent a few minutes Tuesday at the Cucumber Falls overlook before traveling to Fallingwater for a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright house.

OHIOPYLE – A busy year at Ohiopyle State Park is expected to continue through the winter even as flurries fly and the temperature drops.

The park’s attendance is expected to be about 40% higher than most years and was up 73% in the summer months as people left their homes and flocked to the outdoors in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken Bisbee, park manager, said they’ve had 1.2 million visitors through Oct. 31, which is already higher than the nearly 900,000 people who came to Ohiopyle last year.

But even as snow blankets the Laurel Highlands, Bisbee doesn’t think attendance will drop off as much as it usually does during the winter months.

“We expect that to continue with everyone trapped indoors,” Bisbee said. “We expect it not to drop off. People are continuing to enjoy the outdoors.”

Bisbee said they have averaged about 1 million visitors annually over the past decade, so the months of November and December will only add to this year’s impressive total.

“We are significantly up from the average,” Bisbee said.

He noted this past weekend saw a much larger than usual crowd for Thanksgiving weekend thanks to unseasonably warm weather. Many sandwich shops and stores have already closed for the season, although the Falls Market Restaurant & Inn on Route 381 remains open.

A few inches of snow fell at the state park Tuesday, drawing some tourists who normally visit during the summer, but wanted to view the picturesque scenery blanketed in white.

Diane and John Jeziorski of Baldwin spent a few minutes at the Cucumber Falls overlook before traveling to Fallingwater for an afternoon tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright house.

“We didn’t want to stay inside,” she said.

Her husband marveled at the chilly spray emanating from the pool of the falls as water from Cucumber Run made its way to the nearby Youghiogheny River.

“That mist is freezing on a 90-degree day in the summer,” he said.

“I can’t even imagine what it’s like now.”

Another couple, Michael and Rachel, arrived a few minutes earlier and took in the scenery after spending a couple days vacationing in the area. The Pittsburgh couple, who declined to give their last names, went hiking in the rain Monday, so they welcomed the snowfall Tuesday before heading home.

“We’re just getting in the last bit of sight-seeing,” Michael said. “This is one of the nation’s best kept secrets.”

The park was sparsely populated Tuesday, but a couple hikers could be seen making their way to the cascades along Meadow Run. With those snow-covered hikes come added dangers for visitors, Bisbee said.

“It’s a high adventure park,” Bisbee said. “It’s a little more adventurous, so we expect an uptick in injuries.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced park workers to make some changes, such as limiting one family at a time to use a warming shelter near the Sugar Loaf sledding area.

They’ve also blocked off impromptu trails carved by visitors who mistakenly blazed their own path away from the normal routes. The park’s seasonal workers have now been furloughed, leaving the smaller full-time staff to continue maintaining the numerous outdoor amenities and preparing for the spring.

“We have experienced a lot of (wear and tear) by the sheer number of people,” Bisbee said. “People have pounded the trails.”

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