Jockey’s Ridge State Park leads N.C. with 1.8 million visitors in 2021

View from Jockey’s Ridge State Park overlooking the Roanoke Sound. [file photo]

Jockey’s Ridge State Park was the most visited state park in all of North Carolina in 2021, continuing its hold of the top spot as state parks and recreation areas experienced a record number of visitors.

The park covering 427 acres in Nags Head, and includes the tallest-living sand dune complex on the East Coast, welcomed 1.8 million visitors last year. That’s only down slightly from 2020, when 1.9 million visits were recorded.

The state’s 41 parks and sites welcomed 22.8 million visitors in 2021 — three million more than any other year on record. The previous record for visitation was set in 2020 when, despite the early pandemic and several weeks of closures at many parks, the parks welcomed 19.8 million visitors.

Nine other state parks reached one million visitors in 2021, up from 7 parks in 2020, and included Carolina Beach, Eno River, Fort Macon, Pilot Mountain, and William B. Umstead state parks, and Falls Lake, Fort Fisher, Jordan Lake, and Kerr Lake state recreation areas.

“We’re fortunate to live in a state with beautiful natural resources and our 41 state parks saw more visits than ever last year,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “We must maintain and improve these amazing parks so millions more people can enjoy all North Carolina has to offer.”

“North Carolinians in 2021 showed us how much they value state parks and trails to enhance their physical and mental health,” Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Reid Wilson said. “Fortunately, the new state budget invests heavily in new state and local parks, trails, and greenways to meet growing public demand.”

The 2021-22 state budget allocated an additional $91 million for state and local parks and trails and beach access, plus $29 million for state trails projects. The Division of Parks and Recreation will also receive 30 new permanent field positions, $10 million to create park facilities for veterans and those with disabilities, and $40 million in water and sewer upgrades.

“This record visitation year shows us that people need new space to recreate and learn outdoors,” said State Parks Director Dwayne Patterson. “People clearly value not only having more space to roam and explore, but revitalizing and caring for them.”

Among 41 state parks and recreation areas, 28 reported increases in visitation from last year.

Several parks experienced visitation increases in excess of 30 percent compared to 2020, including Carvers Creek (46 percent), Chimney Rock (34 percent), Fort Fisher (46 percent), Jones Lake (48 percent), Lake James (35 percent), and Singletary Lake (50 percent).

North Carolina State Parks manages more than 250,000 acres of iconic landscape within North Carolina’s state parks, state recreation areas and state natural areas. It administers the N.C Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, including its local grants program, as well as a state trails program, North Carolina Natural and Scenic Rivers and more, all with a mission dedicated to conservation, recreation and education.