North Carolina is noteworthy for the diversity of its outdoors. From hiking and skiing in the mountains to deep sea fishing and birding on the coast, there really isn’t much an outdoor enthusiast cannot see or do in this state. Coming from the flattest part of the country (in Wood County, Ohio, the elevated tee box at Forrest Creason golf course is the highest point for miles around) the mountains have a special appeal to me. I enjoyed my first mountain hike, climbing Mt. Pisgah, in April of 1997, and since then have hiked to the top of most of the highest mountains in the state, as well as hiked many of the state parks.
North Carolina has a tremendous state park system. With 34 state parks and four state recreation areas, the system stretches from the highest sand dune on the East Coast at Jockey’s Ridge to Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern U.S. Between these points, you’ll find mysterious bay lakes, wild swamps, rare sandhills, piedmont river systems and bold mountain streams. All state parks offer opportunities for hiking, picnicking and nature study. Most have campgrounds and many have modern visitor centers. Click here to find a park, learn about its facilities and get directions.
The parks system was begun in 1916 when a group of citizens sought to protect the summit of Mount Mitchell. It became the first state park in the Southeast and among the first in the nation. Many of the state parks were initiated by local citizens with a strong conservation ethic.
This tradition of grassroots conservation in North Carolina is reflected in the state’s mandate that these precious natural resources be readily available to all citizens. No admission fees are charged at the state parks. (There is a modest parking fee charged at three state recreation areas.) Fees for services such as camping and picnic shelters are kept as reasonable as possible. There is also a conscious attempt to offer facilities and recreation opportunities in a low-impact manner that protects the land.More than 13 million people visit the state parks each year. The state parks system employs about 400, and nearly 200 of those are park rangers and park superintendents who are commissioned law enforcement officers.Environmental education is also a hallmark of North Carolina state parks. Each park offers free interpretive programs by rangers on a regular basis that explore the marvels of that park’s resources. The system also has exhibit specialists, naturalists and interpretive specialists that expand opportunities for education.Research and natural resource protection are other important facets of the state parks. There are biologists on staff and frequent joint projects with universities and conservation organizations that expand knowledge about conservation.The state parks system also manages 19 state natural areas. Many of these are representative samples of the state’s great diversity of resources and fragile ecological systems. Some of these state natural areas offer public facilities and interpretive programs.