Attendance at Point Pelee jumped 75% this year thanks to free admission

More than 525,000 people visited Point Pelee in 2017 — a 75 per cent increase compared to the previous year, according to park staff.

2018 is also expected to be a big year as the park celebrates its 100th anniversary

Attendance at Point Pelee National Park was up 75 per cent compared to the previous year. Heritage presenter Kristi Dupuis said may of those visitors were coming to the park for the first time. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

More than 525,000 people visited Point Pelee in 2017 — a 75 per cent increase compared to the previous year, according to park staff.

Superintendent Maria Papoulias credits the massive jump to free admission offered by the federal government in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary.

"It was a fun year, we had a lot of people and amazing feedback," she explained. "People were blown away by the beauty of the park." 

Pelee superintendent Maria Papoulias expects 2018 to be a busy year at the park too, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Many of those visitors who hit the trails, took in the views and visited Canada's southernmost point were there for their first time or returning to the park for the first time in years.

"It was extremely busy, but in the best kind of way," said heritage presenter Kristi Dupuis. "We had people come from near and far."

Dupuis took guided hundreds on wildflower hikes and freighter canoe paddles through the park's massive marsh and expects 2018 will be see the Pelee packed again.

The government announced earlier this month admission to all national parks across the country will be free for people 17 and under in the new year.

Pelee celebrates centennial in 2018

That change, coupled with the fact 2018 marks Point Pelee's centennial is sure to draw crowds.

"I'm really hoping this gives a greater opportunity for younger people and families to experience the park. It makes it more accessible for them than ever before," said Papoulias. "It's very important to connect youth with nature and our national parks to keep Pelee relevant for the next 100 years and beyond."

To mark the anniversary, the park is planning a series of special events including a performance from the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and a "Bio Blitz" which will bring experts to the park to help visitors document different species.

Otentiks at the park allow campers to stay overnight at Point Pelee for the first time in 40 years. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Pelee is also offering Otentiks — a mix of a tent and a cabin — which staff hope will encourage campers to give it a try sleeping over for the first time in 40 years.

"To be with other people out here, connected with nature … it doesn't mater when you come," said Dupuis. "It's an awesome place to be."