PILOT MOUNTAIN — Attendance was down last year at Pilot Mountain State Park, which is being blamed on abnormally high rainfall in this area.
Yet the year also brought good news, Park Superintendent Matt Windsor said Tuesday, including the fact that the local facility remained among the top 10 parks in North Carolina in visitation and is the most-popular one in the Northwest region.
“Business is booming,” Windsor added.
During 2013, Pilot Mountain State Park recorded 426,728 visits. That is 2 percent less than the 437,154 visits logged for 2012. “I actually thought it would be more than that earlier in the year, based on the weather,” Windsor said.
Despite an overall drop in attendance, the year produced some bright spots for the park, according to the superintendent.
Included is the fact that while weather was a factor early in 2013, the latter part of the year presented a turnaround.
“We dropped a little bit in the spring — it was a rainy spring — but it picked up,” Windsor said. “We rebounded quite a bit.”
On the flip side of the weather coin was the fact that the rainy conditions also brought a respite temperature-wise. “It wasn’t that hot a summer,” the park official said, which drew more people to outside activities.
“We had one of the busiest Augusts ever,” Windsor said.
The weather continued to cooperate as the year closed, with December’s attendance at Pilot Mountain put at 17,215, 8 percent higher than December 2012, when 15,931 visits occurred.
Even with the 2 percent decline, Pilot Mountain State Park was the No. 10 most-visited facility in the state in 2013. In all, North Carolina has 40 state parks and state recreation areas.
Among area facilities, Pilot Mountain exceeded Hanging Rock State Park’s 395,088 visits, and Stone Mountain State Park at 362,148.
Most Parks Gain
Of the 40 state facilities 19 reported increases in attendance in 2013. Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County reported the highest attendance at 1.19 million visits, followed closely by Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County with 1.18 million.
Over the past 25 years, the state parks system has seen a dramatic 80 percent increase in visitation. In 1988, 7.89 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.
A recent economic study revealed that travelers spend an average $23.56 a day to enjoy the state parks. The analysis by N.C. State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management estimated the state parks system’s total annual economic impact at more than $400 million.
“Throughout fluctuations in the economy and the tourism industry, visitation at state parks has remained steady and robust, and that reflects the value North Carolinians place on outdoor experiences and the state’s rich natural resources,” Carol Tingley, acting state parks director, said in a statement.
“Also, visitation at this level reveals the strong contribution that our state parks make to North Carolina’s tourism economy as well as the economies of the local communities in which they’re located.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.