Raleigh — In its 2016 Centennial year, North Carolina State Parks enjoyed record visitation of 18.8 million, a nine percent increase over the 17.3 million visitors the previous year, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
“North Carolina’s state parks are a treasured resource that belongs to all of us,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “I want to encourage even more North Carolinians to visit and enjoy our wonderful state parks.”
Among 39 state parks and state recreation areas, 31 reported increases in visitation in 2016. William B. Umstead State Park in Wake County reported the highest visitation at 1.84 million, a 38 percent increase over 2015, 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.
“Our Centennial year in 2016 was a time of celebration and reconnection with state parks, and record visitation suggests that North Carolinians participated fully,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “Visitors have come to rely on the state parks as a valuable resource for recreation, conservation and education.”
Visitation at state parks and state recreation areas has increased more than 49 percent in the past 10 years. In 2006, 12.6 million people visited state park units.
During the system’s Centennial year, North Carolina State Parks initiated its passport program, where prizes can be earned for visiting at least 10 state parks, and 100-Mile Challenge in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which promotes a healthy, active lifestyle.
The state parks system achieved the record attendance despite closings due to Hurricane Matthew in early October and wildfires in western parks a month later. In the aftermath of the hurricane, 25 state parks were at least temporarily closed, and in November eight state parks were closed to allow personnel to help contain wildfires at Chimney Rock and South Mountains state parks.
State parks reporting significant increases in visitation included Pilot Mountain State Park in Surry County (51 percent), Pettigrew State Park in Washington/Tyrell counties (38 percent), Lake Norman State Park in Iredell County (24 percent) and Mount Mitchell State Park in Yancey County (26 percent).