SWANSBORO | Sue Clark of Raleigh had some time on her hands Tuesday as her husband was working in the area so she headed to Hammocks Beach State Park for her first visit there.
“We saw the sign a couple of weeks ago when we were driving by, but we didn’t have time to stop so I decided to come by this trip,” Clark said.
Clark browsed through the displays in the exhibit hall and suspects she’ll be back again to experience more of what Hammocks Beach State Park has to offer.
Clark’s family has lived in locations across the country, including Alaska, Florida and Missouri, and particularly enjoys hiking, camping and spending time outdoors.
“We love the water,” she said.
North Carolina’s state parks offer residents and visitors recreation, education and conservation opportunities through park programming, historic sites and natural resources.
The Centennial year for North Carolina State Parks drew record visitation of 18.8 million, a 9 percent increase over the 17.3 million visitors the previous year, according to the 2016 year figures released by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
Among the 39 state parks and state recreation areas, 31 reported increases in visitation in 2016, including Hammocks Beach State Park in Onslow County and Fort Macon State Park in neighboring Carteret County.
Fort Macon State Park was among six state park units to see more than a million visitors in 2016, logging a total of 1,329,708 visitors, up six percent from 2015. Fort Macon was host to one of the signature events for the Centennial celebration.
Also helping draw visitors to state parks during the Centennial was the passport program, allowing visitors to earn prizes for visiting at least 10 state parks.
Hammocks Beach State Park saw 196,239 visitors in 2016, a 1 percent increase from the 195,103 who visited the previous year.
Hammocks Beach State Park Superintendent Sarah Kendrick looks forward to seeing visitation at the Swansboro-based park continue to grow in the upcoming years as plans are made for use of the newly acquired mainland property.
Work is underway on a master plan for potential uses for the 289 acres of undeveloped waterfront property adjacent to the existing visitor center property.
Kendrick said having additional uses on the mainland, such as walking trails, will help to make the park more of a year-round destination.
A public meeting on the draft of the master plan has been scheduled for Feb. 23 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the visitor center. The public comments will be considered as the final plan is prepared.
“We hope to have the final plan by late spring. It really is an exciting time,” Kendrick said.
The state parks saw record visitation in 2016 despite closings due to Hurricane Matthew in early October and wildfires in western parks a month later.