By Luke Weir
The North Carolina State Parks system saw a record total of 19,390,801 visitors in 2017, up 3% from 2016, according to official visitation data.
Over half a million more people visited North Carolina’s 39 state parks in 2017 compared to the year before, a press release from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources said. Out of the 39 state parks in North Carolina, 27 reported an increase in visitation, including two in the High Country.
Grandfather Mountain State Park was visited by 87,648 high country sightseers, good for a 1% increase from its 2016 visitation. Meanwhile, off Meat Camp Road, Elk Knob State Park attendance went up 13%, with 44,825 total visitors in 2017.
Nearby in Ashe County, New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area received a combined 385,216 visitors last year, 2% more than 2016.
South of the Linville Gorge Wilderness, Lake James State Park saw 586,215 total visitors in 2017, an 8% increase from the year before.
Along the Blue Ridge, Mount Mitchell State Park had 375,471 visitors last year, 6% fewer than in 2016.
“Visitation at state parks and state recreation areas has increased more than 44 percent during the last decade,” the press release said. “In 2007, 13.5 million people visited a state park unit—6 million fewer than last year.”
Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susi H. Hamilton said in the release that an extra 2,075 acres of land were acquired for the parks system last year, increasing acreage in eight state parks, four state natural areas and adding to the work-in-progress Mountains to Sea Trail, which passes Boone along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
To learn more about the North Carolina state parks, visit https://www.ncparks.gov/.