Morrow Mountain visitation rate one of highest in North Carolina

Morrow Mountain State Park saw its visitation rate tie for the highest growth in the state.

Morrow Mountain’s visitation was recorded as 209,236 in 2022 and 408,116 in 2023, according to Jeff Davidson, park superintendent for Morrow Mountain.

That ties Morrow Mountain with Mayo River State Park for each having a 95% growth from 2022 to 2023, according to a press release from the state.

“We don’t know if we can point to a specific reason for the increase in our visitation, but we were glad that park visitors came to enjoy Morrow Mountain State Park even though our swimming pool and camping facilities were closed last year,” Davidson said in an email to The Stanly News & Press. “Our park staff and contractors made a lot of major improvements to several of our trails last year and continue into the first part of this year, providing safe and enjoyable recreational opportunities to hikers and horseback riders. We hope that these upgrades have made a positive impact on our visitors.”

The state parks system had more than 20.1 million visitors in 2023 and obtained more than 2,890 acres of new land, according to the press release from the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. Visitation at state parks rose by 4% — more than 755,000 — from 2022.

“State parks’ growth in visitation and acreage puts an exclamation point on an incredibly successful Year of the Trail in North Carolina,” Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Reid Wilson said in the press release.

“Residents and out-of-state visitors came out to enjoy what the Great Trails State has to offer, and we are fortunate that Gov. Roy Cooper and the legislature understand the rising public demand for outdoor recreation and responded with expanded investments in more land, trails, blueways, and greenways.”

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area was again the most visited park in the system, having more than 2.5 million visitors — about half a million more than 2022. The park broke the record for visitation to a single park, beating the record it set when it became the first park to reach 2 million annual visitors.

Five parks reached the 1-million-mark for annual visitation: Falls Lake, Fort Fisher, and Kerr Lake state recreation areas and Fort Macon and Pilot Mountain state parks. Twenty-seven of 42 saw an increase in annual visitation from 2022. Rendezvous Mountain, a satellite area of Stone Mountain State Park, more than doubled its visitation from the previous year.

“We were excited to welcome more visitors to enjoy our naturally wonderful state parks, especially as several of our parks have recently added new campgrounds and visitor centers and as we celebrated the Year of the Trail,” State Parks Director Brian Strong said. “I commend our staff for their continued hard work in ensuring the best possible visitor experience while staying true to our mission of conservation, recreation, and education.”

The state parks system also saw growth in total land size, ending the year at 262,074 acres, which includes state parks and state natural areas.

Examples of significant land acquisitions in 2023 include:

• Pisgah View State Park, where the initial acreage of 1,568 was finally completed in November, after the last 170 acres of acquisition from the Cogburn family. The division began the master planning process for the newest state park last year as well, with additional public input meetings scheduled for February 2024.

• Bakers Lake State Natural Area, which was authorized by the General Assembly in 2021. The division completed the purchase from The Conservation Fund over the summer, with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. A ribbon cutting was held in October to celebrate that the largest unprotected bay lake in North Carolina is now preserved forever. The division presented a commemorative plaque to the prior owner of the property, Dr. C.M. Johnson, at the event.

• State trails, one of the units of the state parks system, grew in number and land size last year. Cooper signed a law authorizing the new Haw River State Trail and the new Equine State Trail. Meanwhile, the division acquired a 1,127-acre parcel along the Neuse River in Johnston County for the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, as well as a total of 304 acres for Deep River State Trail. These land acquisitions allow the division to add access points and help ensure the completion of the planned trail corridors.

“It was a productive year for the division by all accounts — land protection, planning, natural resource management, operations, safety, and interpretation and education,” said Strong. “We look forward to the year ahead as we continue our stewardship of these beloved places in North Carolina.”

Back at Morrow Mountain, Davidson says indoor facilities at the pool are getting a “complete renovation.”

“We have added a splash pad at the pool where the old kiddie pool once was,” he said.

“The six family cabins are receiving a complete renovation. Family Campground Loops A & B have received a complete renovation of the showerhouses. The showerhouse in Family Campground C has been replaced with a new showerhouse and eight new camper cabins have been added in C-Loop,” he added. “We’ve added a new ADA paved walkway at the top of the summit of Morrow Mountain and renovated the old picnic shelter at the summit to where it can be used again as it was originally designed as a concession stand.”