Western North Carolina’s natural beauty has drawn visitors and residents to our area for centuries, so it’s no surprise that some of the very first state and national parks were established right here. Today, our parks are visited by millions of people each year and comprise unique ecological resources and employment opportunities for thousands of people.
The Southeast’s first state park, Mount Mitchell State Park, was founded in 1916. Since then, the state system has grown to almost 250,000 acres, which are managed by more than 400 employees dedicated to conservation, recreation, and education.
“The idea of protecting and preserving North Carolina’s natural and cultural resources really started with Mount Mitchell State Park,” says Skyler Hill, park ranger at Mount Mitchell. “Not only throughout the state of North Carolina do you find what would be considered world-class scenery and great recreational opportunities, but you find land and waters that are really unique to this country and are very valuable to North Carolina citizens.”
One of the first national forests in the US, Pisgah National Forest also celebrates its centennial this year. Made of over 500,000 acres across 12 counties, Pisgah makes up a significant portion of the remaining forested land in Western North Carolina. Employees of Pisgah National Forest are divided among three ranger districts: the Grandfather, Appalachian, and Pisgah districts. The forest was also home to the nation’s first school of forestry, now accessible as the Cradle of Forestry Historic Site.
Attracting more than 9 million tourists and 11 million non-recreational visitors each year, Great Smokies National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. The park is a perfect retreat for for hiking, camping, fly fishing, and other outdoor activities. Even as one of only a few national parks that does not charge an entrance fee, GSNP provides an economic hub generating over $700 million per year and supporting more than 10,000 jobs in surrounding communities.
Chimney Rock State Park, overlooking Lake Lure, North Carolina, has been a part of the NC State Park system since 2007. This tourist attraction has been owned by the Morse family since 1902. Since the park was founded in 1916, the family has worked with the State of North Carolina to manage the park’s trails, outlook, climbing tower, and discovery center, as well as to ensure its preservation for future generations.
Western North Carolina’s state and national parks provide an abundance of natural resources, as well as employment opportunities for those entrusted with their care and conservation. It is important we continue to support and protect our park systems for future generations. “I personally believe that the whole economic future of Western North Carolina is based on its geography,” says Mayor Gavin Brown of Waynesville. “If we maintain the integrity of that geography, then we’ll have an economy that we can survive in.”
To find out how to volunteer or how to join in our parks’ centennial celebrations, visit their websites: ncparks.gov/mount-mitchell-state-park, nps.gov/grsm, and chimneyrockpark.com. To learn more about our national and state parks and all the incredible natural resources in Western North Carolina, contact your Beverly-Hanks & Associates representative today.