The North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation announced on Monday (Feb. 11) that visitation at North Carolina’s state parks and state recreation areas continued at a record level in 2012, with 14.2 million visits, matching attendance levels set in 2009 and 2011, the Ashville Citizen-Times reported.
Among 41 state parks and state recreation areas, 18 reported increases in attendance in 2012. Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County reported the highest attendance at 1.24 million visits, down slightly from 1.29 million last year.
“Continued record attendance demonstrates that our state parks and state recreation areas fulfill a desire of North Carolinians and their visitors for affordable family recreation and a meaningful outdoor experience,” said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. “A direct result of this high visitation is the strong contributions that state parks make to North Carolina’s tourism economy as well as the economies of local communities.”
A 2008 economic study revealed that travelers spend an average $23.56 a day to enjoy the state parks. The analysis by North Carolina State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management estimated the state parks system’s total annual economic impact at more than $400 million. The complete study can be found at: www.ncparks.gov/News/special/economic_impact.php.
During the past 25 years, the state parks system has seen a dramatic 87% increase in visitation. In 1987, 7.6 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.
Several state parks that reported higher attendance in 2012 were able to offer improvements and new amenities to visitors. A new 7,100-square-foot visitor center and related facilities were dedicated at Gorges State Park, and the park experienced a 22% increase in visitation. Improvements in access facilities at Chimney Rock State Park contributed to a 36% jump in attendance, while William B. Umstead State Park in Wake County, which improved parking and a popular trailhead area, recorded visitation up 33%
North Carolina’s state parks are the hot ticket this year. The Ashville Citizen Times reported that through the first three quarters of this year, state parks had 11.9 million visitors, up 2% from the same period in 2011, a record year for visitation, according to the state’s Division of Parks and Recreation.
Several state parks recorded significant increases in visitation for the nine-month period, including Chimney Rock State Park in Rutherford County that completed improvements to access areas and a historic elevator system this past summer. The park recorded a 31% increase in visitation for the period.
In 2011, the state parks system recorded a record total 14.2 million visitors.
“Our continued high visitation reflects the appreciation North Carolinians have for their outdoor resources, as well as recognition that state parks continue to be a safe, affordable and nearby quality outdoor recreation option in a sluggish economy,” said Lewis Ledford, state parks director.
During 2012, no state parks have been closed due to major construction. Also, consistently good weather and moderating gas prices may have contributed to the increase in visitation.