Visitation at North Carolina’s state parks and state recreation areas continued at a record level in 2011 with 14.25 million visits, matching the all-time record set in 2009 and posting a slight increase from 14.19 visits in 2010, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
Among 39 state parks and state recreation areas, 15 reported increases in attendance in 2011. Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County reported the highest attendance at 1.32 million visits, down slightly from 1.47 million last year.
Eno River State Park, including the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area saw a 5 percent increase in attendance between 2010 and 2011 and a 54 percent change in the month of December from 2010 to 2011. Falls Lake State Recreation Area saw an 8 percent change from 2010 to 2011.
“State parks make a strong contribution to North Carolina’s tourism economy as well as to the economies of local communities in which they’re located,” said Lewis Ledford, director of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. “Their continued record attendance reflects the value that North Carolinians and visitors to this state place on outdoor recreation and our natural resources. In addition, families continue to benefit from the affordable recreation and education opportunities in these special places.”
A 2008 economic study revealed that travelers spend an average of $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.
During the past 25 years, the state parks system has seen a dramatic 102 percent increase in visitation. In 1986, 7 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.
Several state parks that reported higher attendance in 2011 were able to offer new amenities to visitors. A new 700-foot swim beach and picnic area at Lake James State Park opened for its first full season, and the park experienced a 70 percent jump in visitation. Improvements at other state parks contributed to increased visitation, including a renovated marina at Carolina Beach State Park, a new equestrian trail network at Medoc Mountain State Park and a number of hiking trail projects, including a volunteer-built summit trail at Elk Knob State Park.
The state parks system manages more than 215,000 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.
For a complete list of 2011 attendance records, see the website.