As the state parks system nears its centennial, a development plan for the next 100 years should include steps to expand and promote a parks system that is an economic and business recruitment asset, Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday in a ceremony commemorating the birth of North Carolina’s first state park.
The governor’s remarks came moments before signing a proclamation recognizing the legislative authorization of Mount Mitchell State Park March 3, 1915 and declaring the first week of March as “North Carolina State Parks Week.” The event at William B. Umstead State Park was a precursor to a yearlong centennial celebration planned for 2016.
“As we celebrate the past, we need to develop a strategy for the future,” McCrory told a group of parks supporters. “I’m preaching to the choir, and what we need to do is take this choir throughout North Carolina.”
North Carolina conservation and business leaders joined the governor and Donald van der Vaart, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, for the celebration. Jean Spooner, chair of the Umstead Coalition, spoke about the natural and cultural significance of North Carolina’s state parks. Alex Bernhardt, chairman of Lenoir-based Bernhardt Furniture, spoke about the value of state parks and how they provide a greater quality of life in North Carolina for businesses and their employees.
Bernhardt said the public-private partnership of conservation groups and the state parks system can continue to leverage assets to create more parks and that effort is critical. “The tremendous economic impact to North Carolina and its citizens is well worth the investment the state continues to make,” he said.
“This is a great kickoff to our celebration of state parks in North Carolina,” van der Vaart said. “Beginning in 1916, North Carolina set a standard for the nation in protecting its natural resources. The state parks centennial in 2016 will be an opportunity for all North Carolinians to renew a shared commitment of stewardship of those resources.”
North Carolina intends to celebrate the state parks system’s centennial throughout 2016 with a series of special events at every state park and a public-private partnership campaign in concert with Friends of State Parks, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the system.
Reacting to perceived threats to an iconic natural resource, North Carolina’s governor Locke Craig and its general assembly, in session March 3, 1915, took a bold first step to protect Mount Mitchell. Proclaiming, “Whereas, it is deemed desirable that this beautiful and elevated spot shall be acquired and permanently dedicated as a state park for the use of the people of the entire state seeking health and recreation…” the legislators launched an effort to purchase property on the mountain’s summit. By the end of 1916, 795 acres had been acquired to create the first state park in the Southeast.