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'It’s skyrocketed' | NC state parks see increased demand on staff, infrastructure with surge in visitors

North Carolina state parks experienced a record number of visitors in 2020, and park officials expect that demand to continue in 2021.

KINGS MOUNTAIN, N.C. — North Carolina state parks are seeing a surge in visitors as more people feel comfortable heading outdoors.

Even during the pandemic, state parks recorded a record number of visitors in 2020, welcoming 19.8 million people. According to a news release, it’s 400,000 more than any other year on record, and 1.2 million more visitors than in 2019.

Jay Greenwood, south district superintendent for North Carolina state parks, said he expects the demand to continue in 2021.

“It’s skyrocketed,” Greenwood said. “Everybody was dealing with COVID for the last year, and everybody just can’t wait to get outside.”

Greenwood said Crowders Mountain State Park has seen 75,000 more visitors just in the first half of 2021 compared to 2019 numbers.

“Crowders Mountain was already an extremely popular place,” said Greenwood, “and now it’s really, really demanding on visitors visiting, as well as on staff there.”

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People visiting the park have taken notice of the extra feet on the trails.

“It’s always crowded, like the traffic just coming through,” said Gabriel Muscat, who visits frequently. “It’s always [a] ton of cars. Everybody’s lined up just trying to, trying to go hiking, I guess. It’s a beautiful time of year.”

Greenwood said visitors are sometimes met with full parking lots and long lines at the gates to get into the parks.

He added that the parks are understaffed to meet the demand, and there are concerns over the impact on the natural resources and aging infrastructure.

“We do have needs running through staffing, infrastructure repairs,” said Greenwood. “We’ve got a lot of old, aging infrastructure all across the state that, of course, there’s a lot of demands on now that have been increased greatly by the visitation.”

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State park officials have submitted a request to the state legislature, asking for funding for more positions and to repair aging infrastructure, according to Greenwood.

With demand only expected to go up, for now, Greenwood said he recommends visitors use the online reservation system for camping and plan to arrive early to get a parking spot.

Contact Kendall Morris at kmorris2@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.