The support group Friends of State Parks held its first meeting in 1973 and members recently digging into the organization’s history recall there were 16 designated state parks and two state recreation areas ready for the group’s support that year. Since then, the state parks system has grown to 35 state parks and four state recreation areas – along with 20 state natural areas, seven state lakes, four state rivers and four state trails. The system now manages more than 218,000 acres.
The state parks system has always been (and likely always will be) a work in progress as North Carolina grows and its conservation goals evolve. Actually, three state parks have been de-listed from the group of 40 years ago. Mount Jefferson was re-authorized as a state natural area (now under the administration of New River State Park). Masonboro Island became a state natural area now managed by the Division of Coastal Resources. And, Boone’s Cave – always a bit undersized for a state park – was put under the protection of Davidson County.
In 1973, the system was poised for a sudden growth spurt, thanks largely to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which began channeling some money to the states for land protection. Another growth spurt began in the early 1990s as the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund was established.
The system and Friends of State Parks also harbored a “wish list” in the 1970s – areas of the state they thought might be good candidates for state park designation. Of that list of 12 high-quality land areas, eight eventually earned state park status – South Mountains, Crowders Mountain, Haw River, Eno River, Medoc Mountain, Goose Creek, Merchants Millpond and Jockey’s Ridge. (The Deep River is another that now is graced with a designated state trail.)
Even old-timers in the state parks might have trouble remembering all the parks on that list of 40 years ago. They were: Mount Mitchell, Fort Macon, Mount Jefferson, Stone Mountain, Pilot Mountain, Boone’s Cave, Hanging Rock, Morrow Mountain, Raven Rock, William B. Umstead, Jones Lake, Singletary Lake, Cliffs of the Neuse, Masonboro Island, Hammocks Beach, Pettigrew.