N.C. State Parks see record attendance in 2013 (pass it on)

Moore's Knob at Hanging Rock is one of the more popular spots in the State Park system.

Fortunately, the North Carolina General Assembly has a short session this year. Good news, considering the environmental mischief they got into during last year’s regular session.

Still, we shouldn’t underestimate what these folks can do in just six weeks, the typical length of a short session. Nor is there reason to wait until they convene in May to arm ourselves with factual ammunition, so that when someone gets the idea to, say, close North Carolina’s State Parks for the winter, you can contact your local representative with facts and set him/her straight on why that’s not a good idea. Since we’re on the topic of North Carolina’s state parks, let’s focus on them today.

Recently released figures show that in 2013, North Carolina’s 40 state parks and recreation areas recorded 14.2 million visits, the third straight year that visitation has reached record levels. Nearly half of the state’s 40 parks (19) set attendance records in 2013. (Note the difference between “visits” and “visitors.” Using myself as an example, I “visit” William B. Umstead State Park twice a week, on average. As a singular visitor, I would account for 104 visits in a given year.)

“Throughout fluctuations in the economy and the tourism industry, visitation at state parks has remained steady and robust, and that reflects the value North Carolinians place on outdoor experiences and the state’s rich natural resources,” Carol Tingley, acting state parks director said in a prepared statement. “Also, visitation at this level reveals the strong contribution that our state parks make to North Carolina’s tourism economy as well as the economies of the local communities in which they’re located.”

Ah, yes, the economic contribution of our State Parks.

According to a recent study by N.C. State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, the state parks system pumped more than $400 million into the North Carolina economy in 2013. Fourteen parks were examined in the study.

While cumulative park attendance has set records the past three years, the trend of more people enjoying our parks stretches back at least 25 years. In 1988, 7.89 million people visited the state’s parks and state recreation areas, representing an 80 percent increase over that time.

Two coastal areas led the way in attendance in 2013, Fort Macon State Recreation Area with 1.19 million visitors and Jockey’s Ridge State Park with 1.18 million. Two Triangle area parks came in third and fourth, William B. Umstead State Park with 1.155 million and Jordan Lake State Recreation Area with 1.146 million. Umstead’s attendance was a 6 percent increase over 2012’s record attendance.
You can find all individual park attendance figures for 2013 and comparative 2012 numbers here.

The state parks system manages more than 220,000 acres within state parks, state recreation areas and a system of state natural areas dedicated to 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.

You’ve got the numbers: go forth and defend your state parks.

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