State parks and recreation areas welcomed 19.4 million visitors in 2017, a 3.4 percent increase over the 18.8 million who came during 2016. It was the fourth consecutive year of record visitation.
Among 39 state parks and recreation areas, 27 reported increases in visitation in 2017. Jockeys Ridge State Park in Dare County reported the greatest visitation at 1.56 million, and was among six state park units logging more than a million visitors. The others were Fort Macon and William B. Umstead State Parks and Falls Lake, Jordan Lake and Kerr Lake State Recreation Areas. Six other state park units had more than 750,000 visitors including Lake Norman State Park, which crept closer to a million this year with more than 962,000 visitors.
North Carolina State Parks strive to focus on the quality of each visit above the quantity, according to Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susi H. Hamilton.
“We are pleased North Carolinians and visitors to our state continue to love, enjoy and experience our parks,” Hamilton said. “In 2017 we also acquired 2,075 additional acres. The acquired lands will be added to eight state parks, four state natural areas and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.”
Visitation at state parks and state recreation areas has increased more than 44 percent during the last decade. In 2007, 13.5 million people visited a state park unit—6 million fewer than last year.
Following the system’s Centennial year in 2016, North Carolina State Parks engaged visitors with its Passport and 100-Mile Challenge programs, which promote a healthy, active lifestyle through goal-setting and accountability.
Parks officials attribute the continued increase in visitation to new trails, improvements in parks and greater public awareness brought on by a more aggressive social media effort. The uptick in enjoyment of the parks further confirms the wisdom of including State Parks in the Connect NC Bond initiative approved by voters in March 2016. Using those funds, the Division of Parks and Recreation will add new campgrounds, visitor centers, and additional conveniences to parks, as well as acquiring new lands across the state.
State parks reporting significant increases in visitation included Medoc Mountain State Park in Halifax County (40 percent), Eno River State Park in Orange County (31 percent), Carolina Beach State Park in New Hanover County (21 percent), Haw River State Park in Guilford and Rockingham Counties (19 percent) and Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County (19 percent).