Pilot Mountain State Park visitation up 31 percent


First Posted: 9/23/2009

PILOT MOUNTAIN The combination of a bad economy and good weather at key times are credited for a 31-percent increase in attendance so far this year at Pilot Mountain State Park.
However, the higher visitation figures have strained parking resources there during peak weekend periods, which have required people to wait 15 to 30 minutes for available spaces.
At times, there has simply not been enough room in the parking area near the top of the mountain to accommodate all the vehicles, according to Ranger Keith Martin. On those occasions when the lot has been filled to capacity, cars have been allowed at the summit only as space becomes available.
Martin said that with the economic downturn, more people seem to be taking advantage of affordable attractions closer to home instead of vacationing at destinations farther away.
That has been noted with daytime visitation as well as overnight stays. Weve had a lot more campers this year, added the ranger, who has worked at Pilot Mountain State Park for 15 years. This has been a busy camping year.
Martin also said weather has been a factor. While Surry County received above-average precipitation during the spring and summer a result of numerous rainy days the timing of that rain has been the key. A lot of our weekends have been nice, he said.
Martin added that traditionally, park traffic is heavy during the first few weekends of spring if the weather is nice. Staff members also are anticipating another busy time in the next few weeks when the leaves change color.
The peak visitation period at Pilot Mountain is from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. When the summit parking lot is full, visitors wanting to avoid the wait have the option of leaving their vehicles at the park office and hiking up the mountain or using the Surry Line Road Corridor Trail parking area, which requires a longer hike. Visitors also can hike at the parks river section, where more parking is available.
Martin said that trail improvements have been in the works at the park to increase the offerings for visitors, involving expansions to both horse trails and hiking trails. Two trails will be lengthened by a couple of miles.
Pilot Mountain has been cited as one of the state parks experiencing significant jumps in attendance during 2009, compared to the same time last year. The 31-percent increase there includes totals through August, the latest reporting period.
The nearby Stone Mountain State Park has experienced a 23-percent gain in visitation. One-third of the states parks and visitation areas have reported attendance figures up at least 20 percent, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
Through August, 14 million visitors had been recorded at all state park facilities, up 14 percent from 2008 and also surpassing visitation totals for the first eight months of 2007, a record year for attendance.
Officials say that depending on weather conditions during the fall months, when cool temperatures and leaf colors traditionally attract sightseers, hikers and campers, 2009 could break the attendance record.
Lewis Ledford, state parks director, said that despite tight budgets and reduced staffs, personnel at state parks have managed to maintain the facilities and maximize the visitor experience.
The increased attendance at Surry Countys only state park also is benefiting the area economy as a whole, a study by the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management division of N.C. State University suggests. Figures from a 2008 analysis show that the state park system has an annual impact of more than $400 million, including $124 million in direct contributions to local tourism economies.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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