Six North Carolina state parks attracted more than a million visitors each in 2015. Jordan Lake near Raleigh was the most-visited, with 1.6 million visits last year.
Overall, a record 17.3 million people visited the state’s parks last year, up 11 percent from 2014. Good weather during peak season made a difference. But so did events, says state parks director Mike Murphy.
“Hundreds of thousands of people attend our programs every year. Because education is one of the three parts our mission - it’s conservation, recreation and education,” he says.
Events from kayak festivals to hikes to mountain bike races take advantage of each park’s natural features - like the wind at the Outer Banks.
“We just finished a kite festival here at Jockey’s Ridge, in just the last couple of days. Two or three thousand people,” said Murphy, who was visiting the site Tuesday.
Jockey's Ridge also topped the 1 million mark last year, as did Fort Macon in Atlantic Beach, Umstead Park in Raleigh, and the Falls Lake and Kerr Lake state recreation areas.
2016 is the centennial of the state park system, which began with the founding of Mount Mitchell State Park in Yancey County.
Other parks with big increases were Gorges State Park (up 48 percent), Pilot Mountain State Park (35 percent), Grandfather Mountain State Park (30 percent) and Hanging Rock State Park (24 percent).
More info: NCParks.gov