09/25/09 — More visitors hitting state parks

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More visitors hitting state parks

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on September 25, 2009 1:47 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- With a struggling economy gripping North Carolina, it seems like everyone is looking for an inexpensive way to entertain themselves.

Camping has become a popular activity and state parks are noticing an increase in visitors, including Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. The outdoors retreat showed a 40-percent rise during the previous calendar year.

"The numbers that I have in front of me show a substantial gain at the Cliffs in the last eight months," said state parks representative Charlie Peek. "We keep a running year-to-date total and so far in 2009 there have been 135,963 visitors to the park which is up from 96,772 in 2008."

Attendance across the state parks system has jumped significantly this year, with a third of all parks and recreation areas reporting visitation up at least 20 percent.

Through August, state parks recorded 10.6 million visitors, up 14 percent from a year ago. That mark surpassed visitation during the same eight-month period of 2007, which was a record season according to released figures.

"Citizens in North Carolina traditionally have turned to state parks for affordable family recreation during difficult economic times, and these attendance numbers reflect that," said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. "Despite tight budgets and reduced staffs, the state parks have worked extra hard to maintain the facilities and the visitor experience so people can relax and enjoy the outdoors."

Along with Cliffs of the Neuse other parks that reported very strong increases in visitation included: Pilot Mountain, 31 percent; Crowders Mountain, 78 percent; Lake Waccamaw, 35 percent; and, Raven Rock, 50 percent. Falls Lake and Jordan Lake state recreation areas reported increases of 24 percent and 52 percent respectively.

"We are seeing a lot of growth in some of our more rural parks," said Peek. "People are generally staying closer to home, and the parks are attracting more visitors thanks in part to good weather and upgraded facilities."

At Cliffs of the Neuse, visitors have had plenty to look forward to this year with the swimming area, campground and trails all being open throughout the summer. A new state-of-the-art museum/visitors center will be opening in the spring of 2010.

"The new visitor center will give people one more way to spend a few hours at the park," said Peek. "There will be several exhibits, programs and demonstrations throughout the year."

With leaves changing color, the air turning cooler and wildlife becoming more prevalent, the Cliffs is expected to continue its positive attendance trend during the autumn months.