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Park Planning

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Park Planning

The North Carolina Park System is a dynamic and growing entity intended to enrich the lives of all North Carolinians.  The Parks Planning Program is charged with the identification/acquisition of critical acreage and, following acquisition, the preparation of the initial development guidelines in accordance with the State Park System Mission Statement. 

What We Do

The growth of existing and new parks begins with a corps of long-term planners and landscape architects. Most state parks have master plans, which guide growth and development over the long term as well as general management plans that guide day-to-day operations. Every potential land acquisition and new facility is scored for priority. In addition, the Division of Parks and Recreation maintains a systemwide plan, which directs the priorities of the state parks system and is regularly revised.


Dave Head, Planning Program Manager
NC Division of Parks and Recreation
1615 MSC Raleigh, NC  27699-1615
Tel:  (919) 707-9310



Black River feasibility study

In 2017, the Division of Parks and Recreation conducted a study to determine the feasibility and desirability of acquiring land and establishing a state park on the Black River.

The study was submitted to the NC General Assembly on March 1, 2018. Access the full PDF: Black River Feasibility Study


Systemwide plan for the NC state parks system

The State Parks Act requires the preparation of a system-wide plan every five years, and directs that the plan:

  • outlines a method whereby the mission and purpose of the state parks system can be achieved in a reasonable, timely and cost effective manner;
  • evaluates existing parks to determine their statewide significance;
  • identifies duplications and deficiencies in the current state parks system and makes recommendations for correction;
  • describes the resources of the existing state parks system and their current uses, identifies conflicts created by those uses and propose solutions to them; and
  • describes anticipated trends, details what impact those trends may have on the state parks system and recommends means and methods to accommodate those trends successfully.


About GMPs

Legislative Mandate:
The 1987 State Parks Act (G.S.114-44.7 through 114-44.14) requires each park to have an individual general management plan. The general management plans are required to:
…include a statement of purpose for the park based upon its relationship to the System Plan and its classification. An analysis of the major resources and facilities on hand to achieve those purposes shall be completed along with a statement of management direction. The general management plan shall be revised as necessary to comply with the System Plan and to achieve the purpose of the [State Parks Act].

Contents of a General Management Plan:

  • Park history and a description of park resources and facilities
  • Statement of park purpose, including an identification of the park's significant resources
  • Summary of interpretive themes
  • An analysis of demand and trends
  • Summary of laws and policy guiding park management
  • An analysis of natural and cultural resource management, including external and internal threats and research needs
  • Physical plant inventory, needs and priorities
  • Capital improvement needs and priorities
  • Operations and management issues and recommendations
  • Land acquisition needs

General management plans (GMPs) have been completed for 25 state park units. Others are underway and in various stages of completion.

Development and subsequent revisions of GMPs involves multi-disciplinary input and collaboration from a group representing operations, natural resources, land acquisition, planning, environmental education, design and construction staff. Prior to the GMP meeting, this staff visits the park and meets with park staff to insure an understanding of various park issues and needs. Visitor and park advisory committee (PAC) concerns are addressed and input from park and recreation surveys and use data are considered. Consensus developed at the GMP meeting goes forward as the park plan.
Draft GMPs receive internal staff review and comment before they are presented to the PACs. Following PAC review and comment, the final draft is sent to the Secretary for DENR approval. Once approved, plans are posted on the Division's website.

GMPs function to:

  • State the purpose of each park as it relates to the mission of the state parks system
  • Assess where we are and where we want to go
  • Focus energy and resources so we work toward the same goals
  • Explain how and why the park was established and the way it's operated
  • Produce fundamental decisions and recommendations that guide the park's operations and development
  • Explain park plans to legislators, park supporters and the public
  • Set priorities
  • Offer continuity as people come and go
  • Allow individual park needs to be incorporated into the systemwide plan
  • Allow a dynamic process for plans to be amended to react to changes

Master Plans

In any state park, careful planning is crucial to balancing recreational demands with our mission to protect the state's valuable natural resources. Each state park has a master plan. In essence, it's a blueprint for development. It is meant to be a dynamic document that evolves as knowledge develops about a park's natural resources and recreational demands.

Click the links below to view available park master plans.

About state trails

North Carolina's nine state trails provide an abundance of opportunities to experience some of the state's most magnificent landscapes.

As units of the North Carolina state parks system, they are distinguished from other regional and local trails, while still offering regional connectivity and public access. While a state park is operated and managed by the Division of Parks and Recreation, a state trail is composed of multiple, connected sections and, as a whole, epitomizes partnerships. Each section of the trail is sponsored by a federal, state or local government agency, nonprofit organization or private landowner.
Section sponsors build, maintain and manage their section of trail – deciding on location, design, surface, permitted uses and amenities. The Division is responsible for the overall corridor planning and coordination. The Trails and Planning staff provide guidance and assistance to all section sponsors.


State Trail Plans

State Trail plans are available on the Trails website. Please visit for more information about State Trails.


Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan

The North Carolina Outdoor Recreation Plan is revised and submitted to the National Park Service every five years to remain eligible for LWCF (Land and Water Conservation Fund) assistance. The LWCF program is a federally funded program that provides assistance to states in the development of state and local outdoor recreation facilities and land acquisition.
Since 1965, North Carolina has received $80 million for more than 1,000 state and local outdoor recreation projects. The plan not only keeps the state eligible for LWCF assistance, it provides a framework for addressing issues, needs, and opportunities related to improving outdoor recreation in North Carolina at the local and state level.


 2020 to 2025 NC Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan »