Governor Pat McCrory announced earlier this year that attendance at North Carolina’s state parks set a new record in 2015. More than 17.3 million people visited the state’s 39 parks, up from 15.6 million the previous year, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
“An 11 percent increase proves that nothing compares to the enriching experience of a visit to a North Carolina state park,” Governor McCrory said. “North Carolina’s natural beauty is an important part of our overall quality of life that is second to none. I commend the men and women of our parks division for creating unique adventures that can turn a visit into a lifetime memory, and sharing our vision of preserving our state parks for future generations.”
In the High Country, Elk Knob State Park saw an increase of 12% from 30,060 in 2014 to 33,589 in 2015. Grandfather Mountain State Park up 30% from 72,926 to 94,597 and New River State Park & Mount Jefferson State Park up 25%.
Among 39 state parks and state recreation areas, 30 reported increases in attendance in 2015. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area in Chatham County reported the highest attendance at 1.6 million visits and was among six state park units logging more than a million visitors. The others were Fort Macon, Jockey’s Ridge and William B. Umstead state parks and Falls Lake and Kerr Lake state recreation areas.
“The diverse beauty of North Carolina is found in our state parks,” said Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz. “From the mountains to the coast, each park is unique in the wonderful opportunities it offers to our visitors to connect to nature.”
In recent years, many state parks have added special events to their calendars to complement system-wide events such as First Day Hikes, National Trails Day and Take a Child Outside Week. Newer state parks such as Carvers Creek in Cumberland County and Gorges State Park in Transylvania County are being discovered by the public.
“Beginning with First Day Hikes a year ago, North Carolinians found every opportunity to enjoy our state parks in 2015, setting an attendance record for the third straight year. This reflects the value they place on our state parks and the opportunities for family recreation,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “There are even more reasons to visit in 2016 as we celebrate our 100-year history with special events statewide and in every state park.”
A new visitor center and improvements in mountain bike trails at Lake Norman State Park likely contributed to a 35 percent increase in visitation there to 742,236. Other parks reporting significant increases in visitation included Gorges State Park (48 percent), Pilot Mountain State Park (35 percent) and Hanging Rock State Park (24 percent).