State parks report record attendance in 2009

Published 5:03 pm Monday, January 11, 2010

State parks in North Carolina reported record attendance in 2009 of 14.16 million visits, a jump of 13 percent over the previous year, and up 5 percent from the previous record set in 2007, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

Over the past 25 years, the state parks system has seen a dramatic 238 percent increase in visitation. In 1984, 5.9 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.

Its obvious North Carolinians and visitors to our state recognize the tremendous value our state parks offer in terms of affordable family experiences and respite from a difficult economy, said Gov. Bev Perdue. Every visitor to the state parks can also take pride in this states long history of conservation of its remarkable natural resources.

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The state parks system manages more than 208,000 acres, including 34 state parks and four state recreation areas and a system of state natural areas dedicated to natural resource protection.

Among the parks and recreation areas, 22 reported increases in attendance in 2009. Jockeys Ridge State Park in Dare County reported the highest attendance at 1.4 million visits, an increase of 2 percent over last year.

Other parks with significant increases were Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Wayne County (42 percent), Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County (58 percent), Dismal Swamp State Park in Camden County (59 percent), Jordan Lake State Recreation Area in Chatham County (52 percent) and Mount Mitchell State Park in Yancey County (77 percent).

The popular summit area at Mount Mitchell reopened in 2008 upon the completion of a new observation deck at the highest point in the eastern United States.

Beyond the quality recreation experiences, health benefits and exposure to the natural world, state parks also offer economic benefits to the local communities where theyre located, said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. A 2008 economic study revealed the state parks system has an annual economic impact of more than $400 million, much of it in direct contributions to local tourism economies.

The study by North Carolina State Universitys Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism Management determined that tourist visitors spend an average $23.56 a day to enjoy the state parks. The complete study can be found at