TRENTON, NJ (WCBS 880/AP) – Officials believe higher gasoline prices and a tough economy are driving an increase in the number of visitors to New Jersey’s state parks.

WCBS 880’s Monica Miller With The Story

The state Environmental Protection Department says visits have tripled since 1980, to a record 18.8 million people in fiscal 2010. It’s up 2 million since 2007.

DEP spokesman Lawrence Hajna says people are staying closer to home and taking shorter vacations.

“[They’re] just really looking for a simpler way to enjoy their vacations. They’re going back to basics. They’re camping, they’re hiking, fishing, they’re enjoying history, and nature,” he told WCBS 880 reporter Monica Miller.

State parks charge $5 a car on weekdays and $10 a car on weekends, but some are free.

The DEP says officials have tried to maintain the same opening hours even though the number of park employees has declined 26 percent over the past decade.

Have you been visiting your local parks more often? Let us know below…

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