RALEIGH -- Attendance at North Carolina?s state parks has jumped significantly during 2009, with a third of the state parks and state recreation areas reporting visitation up at least 20 percent, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
Through August ? the latest reporting period ? the state parks recorded 10.6 million visitors, up 14 percent from a year ago and surpassing visitation during the same eight-month period of 2007, which was a record year for state parks visitation. The report includes 35 state parks and state recreation areas along with Weymouth Woods State Nature Preserve.
?Citizens in North Carolina traditionally have turned to state parks for affordable family recreation during difficult economic times, and these attendance numbers reflect that,? said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. ?Despite tight budgets and reduced staffs, the state parks have worked extra hard to maintain the facilities and the visitor experience so people can relax and enjoy the outdoors this year.?
Aside from the economy, state park attendance can be strongly affected by weather events such as ice storms, hurricanes, heavy downpours or drought. Conditions in 2009 have been relatively normal. And, large construction projects that interrupted operations at a few parks have been completed, including a new summit viewing area at Mount Mitchell State Park and new roads and infrastructure at Gorges State Park in Transylvania County.
Some of the state parks that reported very strong increases in visitation included: Stone Mountain, 23 percent; Pilot Mountain, 31 percent; Cliffs of the Neuse, 40 percent; Crowders Mountain, 78 percent; Fort Macon, 25 percent; Lake Waccamaw, 35 percent; and, Raven Rock, 50 percent. Falls Lake and Jordan Lake state recreation areas reported increases of 24 percent and 52 percent respectively.
The record for attendance in the state parks was set in 2007 with 13.4 million visitors, and that record could be broken in 2009 depending on weather conditions during the autumn months, when cool weather and fall leaf colors traditionally lure hikers, campers and sightseers to the parks.
A university study completed in 2008 revealed that the state parks system contributes significantly to North Carolina?s economy in all seasons, with an annual economic impact of more than $400 million, including $124 million each year in direct contributions to local tourism economies. The complete study, conducted by North Carolina State University?s department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, can be found here.
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