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North Carolina's State Parks a Natural Place To Observe Earth Day

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Michael F. Easley, Governor
William G. Ross, Jr., Secretary

Release Note: 
Charlie Peek
Release Date: 
Monday, April 17, 2006

North Carolina's State Parks a Natural Place To Observe Earth Day

RALEIGH --The North Carolina state parks system, celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2006, is a natural venue for observing Earth Day. State parks offer more opportunities than ever, not only to learn about the Earth's array of natural resources, but to experience them.

Within the past year as the state parks recorded 12.35 million visits, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation opened its 16 th modern visitor center, made significant expansions to existing state parks and began developing two new state parks authorized by the General Assembly at Carvers Creek in Cumberland County and Hickory Nut Gorge in Rutherford County.

Many state parks are offering special interpretive programs or events on the formal Earth Day observance April 22 and in the days before and following, but visitors can enjoy an Earth Day experience at almost any time at North Carolina's state parks, recreation areas and state natural areas.

"We like to say that every day is Earth Day at the state parks, and it's because putting citizens in touch with the environment is at the core of our mission," said Lewis Ledford, director of the division. "Our rangers are certified environmental educators always looking for ways to reach visitors through interpretive programs. Our new visitor centers are equipped with exhibit halls that offer museum-quality experiences. Even many of our trails are built with an interpretive theme in mind."

A new 6,273-square-foot visitor center was dedicated at Jones Lake State Park in 2005. Similar centers are being built at South Mountains, Merchants Millpond and New River state parks and at Dismal Swamp State Natural Area. Visitor centers at the parks are equipped with teaching auditoriums, classrooms and modern exhibit halls.

"The visitor centers provide a focal point and identity for a state park, and just as importantly, they frame our exhibit halls which explore the unique natural resources of each state park, whether it's the rare marine species at Hammocks Beach, the climate extremes at Mount Mitchell or the unique bay lake ecology at Lake Waccamaw," Ledford said.

The program of equipping state parks with visitor centers, exhibit halls and wayside exhibits has been made possible through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which is in turn supported by the state's tax on real estate deed transfers. A portion of the trust fund is set aside for state park development and land acquisition.

Since the last Earth Day, the state parks system has added more than 2,500 acres to Pettigrew State Park in Washington and Tyrell counties to create a Scuppernong River Section along one of the state's last undeveloped river corridors. The division also acquired 785 acres at Elk Knob State Natural Area in Ashe and Watauga counties. And, William B. Umstead State Park in Wake County added an important buffer to development at the park's northern boundary near US 70.

Over the past five years, the state parks system has added more than 22,000 acres to help execute master plans at existing state parks and state natural areas.

It's traditional that any visit to a state park involve fun as well as learning, and the parks are offering more recreation opportunities. In the past year, new day-use and camping facilities were built at Lumber River State Park's Chalk Banks Access in Scotland County, and Stone Mountain State Park's campground was expanded. A new swim complex was dedicated at Lake Norman State Park, and, a number of well-worn trails were renovated.

To learn more about the state parks, their facilities and programs, go to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation website at