North Carolina’s state parks system marked a historic year in 2023, drawing an unprecedented 20.1 million visitors and expanding its land by nearly 3,000 acres.
The system’s expansion included notable acquisitions like Pisgah View State Park, which spans across Buncombe and Haywood counties, a report from ABC News highlighted.
In a year-over-year comparison, the parks saw a 4% increase in visitation, translating to an additional 755,000 visitors compared to 2022.
Reid Wilson, secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, emphasized the significance of this growth.
State parks’ growth in visitation and acreage puts an exclamation point on an incredibly successful Year of the Trail in North Carolina,” Wilson said. He highlighted the state’s response to the increasing demand for outdoor recreation, with investments in more land, trails, blueways, and greenways.
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area led the pack as the most visited park for the second consecutive year, welcoming over 2.5 million visitors. This figure not only surpasses last year’s count by half a million but also sets a new record for single park unit visitation.
Other parks also saw remarkable visitor numbers. Falls Lake, Fort Fisher, Kerr Lake, Fort Macon, and Pilot Mountain each crossed the 1 million visitor mark in 2023.
Rendezvous Mountain, a satellite area of Stone Mountain State Park, more than doubled its visitation from the previous year, showcasing the growing appeal of lesser-known parks.
The largest visitation growth was observed at Mayo River and Morrow Mountain state parks, each witnessing a 95% increase. This surge points to the parks’ enhanced appeal and the successful implementation of visitor-friendly amenities and programs.
State Parks Director Brian Strong commended the park staff for their dedication. “I commend our staff for their continued hard work in ensuring the best possible visitor experience while staying true to our mission of conservation, recreation, and education,” Strong said.
By the end of 2023, the total land size of the state parks system reached 262,074 acres. This expansion includes both state parks and natural areas, reflecting the state’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.
Significant land acquisitions in 2023 have been pivotal for the state parks system. The completion of Pisgah View State Park, the preservation of Bakers Lake State Natural Area, and expansions for the Haw River State Trail, Equine State Trail, and segments of the Mountains-to-Sea and Deep River State Trails are notable examples.
These developments in North Carolina’s state parks are not just a win for conservationists but also a significant boost for the outdoor recreation industry. The increased visitation and expanded parklands offer more opportunities for outdoor activities, from hiking and camping to water sports and trail riding.
This growth is a testament to the state’s commitment to enhancing outdoor recreational spaces, contributing significantly to the local economy and the well-being of its residents and visitors.