At the year’s halfway mark, attendance reports suggest that North Carolina’s state parks could be headed toward another record-breaking year in 2012.
More that 7.2 million visitors had made their way to the 41 state parks and state recreation areas as of June 30, up a healthy 6 percent from the same period a year ago. During 2011, the 14.2 million visitors matched record attendance first recorded in 2009. If visitation remains at this pace, another record is likely to be set in 2012.
It’s difficult to determine precise reasons for such consistently high attendance; it’s likely due to a combination of factors. This year saw slightly lower gas prices and reasonably good weather through the busy holiday weekends at Easter and Memorial Day and on July 4. No parks have been closed due to weather emergencies or major construction projects during 2012.
Whether another record-breaking year is in the offing depends largely on the current hurricane season. Damage from tropical storms and hurricanes can close parks for long periods – particularly in the east – and even more “normal” heavy rainfall can drop attendance during the fall, when foliage is in full color and visitors get the urge for cool-weather hiking.
During the six-month period, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – which offers the most campsites of any state park – saw a 63 percent surge over the first half of 2011. Nearby Falls Lake experienced a 49 percent jump.
Other parks which reported strong attendance increases included: Chimney Rock (23 percent); Elk Knob (42 percent); Gorges (35 percent); Lake Waccamaw (52 percent); Medoc Mountain (33 percent); and, William B. Umstead (77 percent).