Aug 26, 2022 - News

North Carolina's state parks are slammed

Jockey's Ridge State Park. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Jockey's Ridge State Park. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If it feels like North Carolina's state parks are slammed, it's because they are.

  • State parks are drawing in record visitors, with last year's tally of 22.8 million breaking the record set in 2020 by more than three million visitors.

Driving the news: People have embraced the outdoors, as the pandemic discouraged many from gathering indoors and remote work has allowed people to travel more.

  • The urge to get outside has been a moneymaker for a state like North Carolina, which is rich in natural amenities. Spending at national parks in the state hit $1.7 billion last year.
  • It's placed a lot of pressure on the state's park infrastructure and park rangers, Katie Hall, a public information officer for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, told Axios.

So far, visitor numbers are trending lower this year, but still remain elevated compared to the recent past, according to some preliminary date from the state through July.

  • Hall said that's likely due to people resuming pre-pandemic activities after spending a lot of time in the parks last year. She expects an uptick again next year.

What's next: The 2021 state budget made tens of millions of dollars available for parks and trails land conservation in North Carolina.

Kayaking on Jordan Lake
Kayaking on Jordan Lake. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

The ten most visited state parks since 2019:

  1. Jockey’s Ridge State Park, located in Nags Head on the Outer Banks, this park is home to the largest sand dune on the East Coast.
  2. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, an undeveloped reservoir near Pittsboro, the park is popular with kayakers and campers.
  3. Falls Lake State Recreation Area, another undeveloped reservoir in Wake Forest. The Mountain-to-Sea Trail goes through this park.
  4. Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, home to six miles of beach and salt marsh in Kure Beach.
  5. Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, located near Henderson on the Virginia border, Kerr Lake is popular with boaters.
  6. Carolina Beach State Park, located south of Wilmington, you can find venus flytraps, a carnivorous plant native to the Carolina coast.
  7. Fort Macon State Park, located near Atlantic Beach, this park is nearly surrounded by water and home to a Civil War-era fort.
  8. Pilot Mountain State Park, situated northwest of Winston-Salem, Pilot Mountain is known for its knob peak and rock climbing opportunities.
  9. William B. Umstead State Park, one of the Triangle’s natural gems. Umstead is hugely popular with trail runners and mountain bikers.
  10. Hanging Rock State Park, located north of Winston-Salem, has extensive hiking trails and sweeping views of the Piedmont.

💭 Lucille's thought bubble: Jordan Lake is my favorite park in the area. I love taking my kayak out on the water there.

💭 Zach's thought bubble: It’s not among the top 10 most visited, but the endless rows of longleaf pines at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve in Southern Pines are mesmerizing.


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