North Carolina’s state parks and state recreation areas had record attendance in 2014, with 15.6 million visitors, a 10 percent increase over 14.2 million the previous year.
Among 39 state parks and state recreation areas, 27 reported increases in attendance in 2014. William B. Umstead State Park in Wake County reported the highest attendance at 1.29 million visits, and was among six state park units logging more than a million visitors. The others were Fort Macon and Jockey’s Ridge state parks and Falls Lake, Jordan Lake and Kerr Lake state recreation areas.
“Record visitation in 2014 dramatically reflects the value North Carolinians place on our state parks, especially for the communities where they’re located and their economies,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “The state parks system will hold its centennial in 2016 and planning is underway for special events and opportunities to celebrate a system that has become an institution for recreation, conservation and connection with nature in our state”
Over the past 25 years, attendance at state parks has nearly doubled. In 1989, eight million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.
A number of factors likely contributed to the record visitation, among them a long list of special events at the parks, beginning with First Day Hikes on Jan. 1. More than two dozen events were scheduled for National Trails Day in June and every park held special interpretive programs during Take a Child Outside Week in September. And, newly created events began to gain traction, including a paddle festival at Hammocks Beach State Park and a long-distance hiking challenge at Hanging Rock State Park. Additionally, no parks were closed for extended periods due to weather emergencies or construction.
The new Carvers Creek State Park in Cumberland County logged its first full year of operation, reporting 74,220 visitors. Parks reporting the largest increases in visitation included Crowders Mountain in Gaston County (65 percent), Hammocks Beach in Onslow County (32 percent), Lake Norman in Iredell County (70 percent), Lake Waccamaw in Columbus County (26 percent) and Morrow Mountain in Stanly County (64 percent).
The state parks system manages more than 223,000 acres within state parks, state recreation areas and a system of state natural areas dedicated to the conservation of rare resources. Through its New Parks for a New Century initiative, six new state parks have been added to the system since 2003.