State parks attendance stays high
by Kellen Moore
Visitation to North Carolina state parks continued at a near-record level in 2012, with almost 14.2 million visits.
The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation announced the figures Monday. The totals were close to the 14.25 million visits recorded in 2011, which matched the record set in 2009.
Among 41 state parks and recreation areas, 18 reported increases in attendance in 2012, several due to improvements and new amenities.
"Continued record attendance demonstrates that our state parks and state recreation areas fulfill a desire of North Carolinians and their visitors for affordable family recreation and a meaningful outdoor experience," said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. "A direct result of this high visitation is the strong contributions that state parks make to North Carolina's tourism economy, as well as the economies of local communities."
In the High Country:
• Elk Knob State Park recorded 31,926 visits, down 6 percent from the previous year.
• Grandfather Mountain State Park recorded 77,459 visits, a 55 percent increase from the previous year.
• New River State Park, including Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, charted 281,589 visits, down 12 percent from the previous year.
A 2008 economic study revealed that travelers spend an average $23.56 a day to enjoy the state parks. The analysis by N.C. State University's Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management estimated the state parks system's total annual economic impact at more than $400 million.
During the past 25 years, the state parks system has seen a dramatic 87 percent increase in visitation. In 1987, 7.6 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.
The state parks system manages more than 217,000 acres within state parks, state recreation areas and a system of state natural areas dedicated to conservation of rare resources. Through its New Parks for a New Century initiative, six new state parks have been added to the system since 2003.