Fort Laramie National Historic Site prepares for 2021

Telegram File photos Fort Laramie National Historic Site remained mostly open throughout 2020, with COVID-19 mitigating adjustments.

FORT LARAMIE – Fort Laramie National Historic Site (FLNHS) remained partially open to visitors all last year amid the pandemic.

As of November, FLNHS saw a nearly 40% decrease in visitation from the previous year, according to Eric Valencia, Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services at FLNHS. He said the historic site started seeing visitation patterns more consistent with previous years in November and December, and he’s hopeful that will carry into 2021.

“We plan on hopefully having a normal year as far as visitation goes,” Valencia said. “This past year, we were able to have more visitor contacts as our rangers were out in the field, making contacts with visitors as they arrived, providing information and orientation.”

FLNHS had 42,892 visitors in 2019 and 26,433 visitors in 2020, according to National Park Service (NPS) visitor use statistics.

Students and teachers from schools statewide were unable to visit in the spring, which typically accounts for a lot of visitation in April and May. FLNHS saw 2,564 visitors in April and May 2020 combined, compared to 7,198 in the same months the year prior.

Throughout the summer, which are typically the busiest months at FLNHS, “informal visitor contacts” with park employees increased despite the decrease in overall visitation, Valencia said.

“We were out there doing what we’re supposed to do as far as facilitating a quality experience for our visitors here at Fort Laramie,” he said. “We hope to build on that in the coming year, as well, and to continue to provide excellent informal interpretation to visitors as they arrive here and begin, hopefully, to have a full slate of interpretive programming.”

The site is recruiting volunteers as they normally do, Valencia said, including for living history programs, whose volunteers wear reproduction 19th-century attire provided by the park, according to the FLNHS website.

Fort Laramie Historical Association (FLHA), a nonprofit that provides support and assistance to the interpretive, educational, and research activities of the park and provides interpretive and educational materials to visitors through a cooperating association agreement, recently hired a new business manager, Katja Cook.

FLHA operates the bookstore on the park’s grounds and works to bring visitors to the site.

“Those cooperative agreements are so important to help in visitor services but also interpretation of the site through literature and all different aspects in which they support the park,” Valencia said.

Cook and Valencia said they hope to get back to regular business this year, resuming events that were canceled due to COVID-19, including the annual Christmas on the Frontier event.

“Fort Laramie NHS is committed to returning this annual community event to its traditional activities in 2021 and looks forward to providing the public with safe visitor services and activities in the future,” said a Nov. 30 FLNHS press release announcing the cancellation.

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