Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — North Carolina state parks and recreation areas experienced a record number of visitors in 2021. The 41 sites welcomed a total of 22.8 million visitors last year — 3 million more than any other year on record.
The previous record for visitation was set in 2020 when, despite the early pandemic and several weeks of closures at many parks, the parks welcomed 19.8 million visitors. Ten state parks reached one million visitors in 2021, up from seven parks in 2020.
“We’re fortunate to live in a state with beautiful natural resources and our 41 state parks saw more visits than ever last year,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “We must maintain and improve these amazing parks so millions more people can enjoy all North Carolina has to offer.”
“North Carolinians in 2021 showed us how much they value state parks and trails to enhance their physical and mental health,” Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Reid Wilson added. “Fortunately, the new state budget invests heavily in new state and local parks, trails, and greenways to meet growing public demand.”
The 2021-2022 state budget allocated an additional $91 million for state and local parks and trails and beach access, plus $29 million for state trails projects. The Division of Parks and Recreation will also receive 30 new permanent field positions, $10 million to create park facilities for veterans and those with disabilities, and $40 million in water and sewer upgrades.
“This record visitation year shows us that people need new space to recreate and learn outdoors,” said State Parks Director Dwayne Patterson.
Among 41 state parks and recreation areas, 28 reported increases in visitation from last year. Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County reported the highest visitation with 1.8 million visitors last year and was among ten state park units that welcomed more than a million visitors. The others were Carolina Beach, Eno River, Fort Macon, Pilot Mountain, and William B. Umstead state parks, and Falls Lake, Fort Fisher, Jordan Lake, and Kerr Lake state recreation areas.
Several parks experienced visitation increases in excess of 30 percent compared to 2020, including Carvers Creek (46 percent), Chimney Rock (34 percent), Fort Fisher (46 percent), Jones Lake (48 percent), Lake James (35 percent), and Singletary Lake (50 percent).