Carolina Beach, Eno River, Fort Macon and Mount Mitchell state parks have been selected as finalists for the 2015 State Park of the Year award of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. The winner will lay claim to the title during the parks system’s 2016 centennial.
Each of the system’s four administrative districts chooses a nominee for “exemplary contribution to the North Carolina state parks mission of stewardship, public service and education.” Final judging is by senior and peer administrators. To honor the State Park of the Year, a medallion is attached to a hiking staff that is passed to the current award recipient each year.
Each of the nominees reported significant progress in promoting recreation, environmental education, efficiency, care of natural resources and sustainability. Beyond that, each can boast of success in special projects.
Carolina Beach partnered with The Coastal Federation to create an oyster reef along its shoreline using 48 tons of material. The park opened a new TRACK Trail for kids’ exploration as well as a new wellness trail, welcomed 29 new junior rangers and staged 283 free interpretive programs. The park also helped create a new support group, Friends of Pleasure Island State Parks.
At Eno River, a program to combat the invasive weed hydrilla was successfully launched, and the staff contributed more than 500 hours of labor to controlling other invasive species. Rangers and maintenance staff organized volunteers who contributed 1,528 hours of labor. And, the ranger staff was active in the Orange County Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth.
With annual attendance of more than 1.1 million, the staff at Fort Macon found time to create the park’s first nature and wellness trail, provided 1,090 free interpretive programs and hosted 14 special events and demonstrations. The staff directed major renovations to the park’s bathhouse and enhanced a sustainability program that reduced water usage by half.
Mount Mitchell State Park was North Carolina’s first state park, created in 1916, and will get much attention during the centennial. In the past year, the park hosted two major events – the Assault on Mount Mitchell, involving more than 1,000 cyclists, and the Mount Mitchell Challenge, which drew hundreds of runners. The park staff managed habitat for dozens of endangered and rare species such as the saw-whet owl and northern flying squirrel. And, the park partnered with Montreat College to host the Center for Learning in Mountain Backcountry Ecosystems.
The state parks system began choosing a State Park of the Year in 2010. Lake James State Park was honored in 2014.