NC – Visitation to State Attractions Increasing

View from summit of Elk Knob State Park – Photo by Jay Wild, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation

View from summit of Elk Knob State Park – Photo by Jay Wild, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation

Visitation to North Carolina’s state sites, attractions and museums is up compared to last year. From Fiscal Year 2014-15 to Fiscal Year 2015-16 ending June 30, 2016, total visitation to the state’s natural and cultural sites increased by nearly 1.8 million visitors, or 7.7 percent, Gov. Pat McCrory announced.

“Data shows that visitors from within our state and across the country and world are flocking to North Carolina to experience our natural beauty and quality of life that is second to none,” McCrory said. “As our population continues to increase and more people visit our state, strategic investments in our state parks, the zoo and overall quality of life will prepare our state for future growth.”

The top five divisions within the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources that experienced increased attendance were the North Carolina Museum of Art, which saw an increase of 34.4 percent, North Carolina State Parks, which saw an increase of 11 percent, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, which saw an increase of 5.3 percent, the North Carolina Zoo, which saw an increase of 4.7 percent, and the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, which saw an increase of 4.4 percent. Four of these divisions experienced the best attendance levels they have seen in the last five years.

In addition to the Fiscal Year comparison, the 11.7 million visitors to the North Carolina State Parks system through the end of July is a 10 percent increase over midsummer visitation of 10.6 million in 2015. Total state parks visitation in 2015 was a record 17.3 million. If the trend continues through the end of 2016, that record is likely to be surpassed.

Among 39 state parks and state recreation areas, 29 recorded increases in visitation above 2015 levels. William B. Umstead State Park in Wake County reported the highest visitation through July of 1.06 million. Others reporting visitation of at least 500,000 were Lake Norman, Jockey’s Ridge and Fort Macon state parks and Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, Kerr Lake and Fort Fisher state recreation areas.

“Along with inspiring landscapes, North Carolina State Parks offer an appealing array of activities,” said Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz. “There are more than 600 miles of trails for hikers and runners, as well as opportunities for mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing, horseback riding, rock climbing and more recreation opportunities that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.”

To prepare for future growth and increased visitation at state attractions, Governor McCrory championed the Connect NC bond. Overwhelmingly approved by North Carolina voters, Connect NC included $100 million for needed infrastructure including education facilities and visitor centers at state parks throughout the state and the North Carolina Zoo.

Guest column: Land and Water Conservation Fund needs reform to meet original goal





FL – Hundreds celebrate as park is christened for black activists

Wade in

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VA – Conversations with Super Girls – VSP Youth Conservation Corps


Girl Power is so awesome

Recently I had the chance to sit down with the Virginia State Park’s Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) that was stationed at Westmoreland State Park.

This all-girl team is working there for three weeks during one of the hottest summers on record. The courageous girls are not only dealing with the humidity but also a yellow jacket invasion at the paddle-in primitive campsite where they were installing an accessible feature to a tent pad. The yellow jackets became so aggressive park management decided to delay the project for the safety of the team and move them to another project.

They even made their own Yellow Jacket traps

On one of those extremely hot and muggy days, I made the team come into the park’s visitor center to cool off for a while so we could talk and Rob Hedelt from the Fredericksburg FreeLance Star could interview some of them for his column.

I started out asking questions about how they were doing, coping with the challenges and if they liked being in the YCC so far? They readily answered my questions and were quite enthusiastic. All seemed to be enjoying the program and getting to know one another.

My conversations got a little more in-depth with the girls that were sitting closer to me and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable exchanges I have had in a while.

The girls shared openly about their dreams, their fears, theirs plans for the future, their families and homes. I especially loved to hear some of them talk about their mothers and how beautiful they thought they were but just wished their moms thought so too. How their dads are so funny and made them laugh!

We had a more serious conversation about accepting ourselves for who we are and not what we look like.

I learned that some girls played musical instruments, some could draw, some could not, some loved writing and some did not. I even found out they gave the hand tools they were using funny names. Like Chopper Offers (loppers) Fickle Floppers (swing blade) and Chigga Chiggas (hand saw). Simply hysterical and fun and I did a lot of laughing that day.

I asked them how they were doing being “unplugged” from the internet and their cell phones. They said it was kind of nice and were actually not having a hard time with it at all. Instead of having their faces stuck in the phone they were having real conversations will real people. And, they were taking note of the environment around them.

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WI – State park cabins make camping accessible for all

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 7.12.13 PMCampers often take their ability to spend a few nights in a tent in the woods for granted. But for people who use wheelchairs, sleeping on the ground isn’t always an option.

To help people with disabilities explore nature, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provides 10 wheelchair-accessible cabins around the state. The department recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first log cabin at Mirror Lake State Park. What began as a volunteer project of the Telephone Pioneers of America has grown into a popular program that has allowed thousands of people to spend starry nights in the state park system over the years.

“I’m really impressed,” Lori Olson, 45, of Elkhorn said on a June weekend during her first stay at an accessible cabin, at Ottawa Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit. “I haven’t camped in so many years. I used to be a Boy Scout leader. I miss camping.”

Olson, who was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair or crutches all of her life, managed to do a little camping when her son, Mack, was a Boy Scout.

But now, she said, “I’m getting too old for the ground.”

The cabins sleep six, with two hospital beds in the bedroom, a sleeper sofa in the living room and two cots on the screened porch. It has a Hoyer lift for people who need assistance with transfers, and a shower-commode chair.

Olson was excited about using the wheel-in shower, which is a better setup than what she has at home.

Of course, she also was excited about making s’mores in the fire ring with her son and cooking her Dutch oven favorites. Husband Richard’s two daughters and a boyfriend joined them.

The kitchen, which has low counters for easy wheelchair access, is equipped with a stovetop, microwave and refrigerator. Because of health regulations, campers must bring their own kitchen utensils, towels and bedding — just like camping.

MT – Record crowds flock to state parks


It’s shaping up to be another record-breaking year for Montana’s state parks, and the six park units along the shores of Flathead Lake are no exception.

Dave Landstrom, the parks manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region One, said visitation to Flathead Lake State Park during the first half of 2016 was up about 6 percent from the same time last year, with campgrounds and parking lots filling up at an unprecedented rate.

That’s on pace to once again break the park’s all-time visitor record set by the 281,000 people who came to Flathead Lake State Park last year.

“We haven’t experienced a reduction in visitation in a quite some time,” Landstrom said. “It’s been a steady increase. … The challenge is just maintaining a quality visitor experience and keeping the facilities and campgrounds well maintained.”

Flathead Lake State Park has the second-highest level of use in the state park system, although it is managed as a collective of six separate park units: Wayfarers, West Shore, Big Arm, Yellow Bay, Finley Point and Wild Horse Island.

The trend is consistent across the state park system, which announced last week that the first six months of this year had already seen 1.3 million visitors to Montana’s 55 state parks — a 23 percent increase over 2015’s record crowds.

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The process of flying a drone in California (and much of the United States if we’re being honest), is riddled with hazy rules and misinformation. Sometimes a drone operator is in the wrong, and sometimes they know more than park officials who question them about it. Many of the most beautiful locations in California are protected State Park or National Park land, and though we know the National Park System’s stance on drone use (you can’t do it as of the publication of this article), the State Park rules have been a challenge to understand. Depending on who you ask and when, you get a different answer.

Today that changes, as we received more concrete, definitive rules directly from the Superintendent for Emergency Services, Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Division of the California State Park System, Scott Elliot, which contains the general guidelines that will become public on the California State Park website in the next couple weeks. In it, the Park System makes one thing immediately clear: there is no blanket ban on drones. In fact, recreational drone flying is allowed in California park systems unless posted otherwise by the district superintendent:

Drones are currently allowed in State Parks, State Beaches, State Historic Parks, State Recreational Areas, and State Vehicular Recreation Areas except where prohibited by a District Superintendent’s posted order. Posted orders may prohibit drones for numerous reasons, including: protection of threatened species; threats to cultural and natural resources; high fire danger; public safety; recreational conflicts; impacts upon visitor experience privacy; and park unit classification. Therefore, drone users should always check with their local State Park District for any specific posted orders.

Below is the full breakdown, directly from the State Park System.

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TN – Tenn. awards more than $17 million for local parks and recreation

Rocky Fork Creek, which flows through the heart of Rock Forks State Park, received a $167,000 Recreational Trails Program Grant. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS / KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL)

Rocky Fork Creek, which flows through the heart of Rock Forks State Park, received a $167,000 Recreational Trails Program Grant. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS / KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL)

By News Sentinel Staff

Parks and recreation facilities across Tennessee will benefit from a series of grants totaling more than $17 million, state officials announced.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will award $15.8 million in local park and recreation grants to 55 communities, as well as $1.9 million in Recreation Trails Program grants for a total of 12 parks and communities across Tennessee.

The Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant program was established by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1991 to provide local funding to purchase park lands, trails and recreational facilities. The grants are competitive and require a 50 percent match by the recipients.

The Recreational Trails Program is a federally funded program that addresses recreation trail projects. Funding is provided by the Federal Highway Administration through the Fixing Americans Surface Transportation Act of 2015. The maximum federal share for each project is 80 percent, with the grant providing a 20 percent match. Grant recipients are selected through a scoring process that ranks the greatest local recreation need.

Recent recipients of the Local Park and Recreation Grants include:

The town of Farragut — $500,000 to renovate an athletic field, restrooms and parking.

Knox County — $500,000 for a picnic shelter, dog park, playground, restrooms, parking area and new trail access at I.C. King Park.

Town of Pittman Center — $43,000 for City Hall pavilion and restroom

Anderson/Morgan/Roane counties — $100,000 for Carmichael ball field development.

Recipients of Trails Programs grants include:

Norris Dam State Park — $84,000 to purchase trail cutting equipment to develop three trails that will link existing trails to the campground.

City of Alcoa — $111,000 to construct a restroom facility on the Alcoa Greenway Trail.

City of Sevierville — $200,000 to extend existing greenway from the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River to the Gatlinburg Highway Bridge.

Rocky Fork State Park — $167,000 to purchase prefabricated coated aluminum bridge and associated hardware to transport materials to site and assist with assembly. Purchase of trail construction and maintenance equipment at the ingress and egress of proposed bridge, and for search and rescue response to visitors on the trail.

WV – Crew from Kansas aids in Greenbrier River Trail flood recovery

This 400-foot-long rock slide blocking the Greenbrier River Trail about one mile south of Anthony, a remnant of the June 23-24 flood, could take months to clear, according to state park officials.  Courtesy photo

A 10-person volunteer trail crew from the Kansas state parks system helped clear a 3.5-mile section of the Greenbrier River Trail.

Work done by a 10-person crew of volunteers from the Kansas state parks system helped make possible the reopening on Friday of a flood-damaged 3.5-mile section of the Greenbrier River Trail north of Caldwell.

The Kansas trail repair crew arrived with their own tools, equipment and vehicles, and spent a week clearing rocks, trees and other slide debris from the trail and its right-of-way, according to West Virginia State Parks Chief Sam England.

Linda Lanterman, director of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, called England shortly after widespread flooding swept through the state in late June, offering to do anything she could to help with flood damage repair. The state parks chief said he initially thanked Lanterman for her concern and offer of assistance, but declined to take her up on her offer.

“Polite offers are sometimes made and often it’s difficult to know when to accept or to appreciate the concern,” England said. But shortly after her initial call, Lanterman called back and said “Really, we have a crew ready to come and work,” England said. “We knew then that Kansas was the real deal,” and the offer of the 10-person trail crew was accepted.

The 78-mile rail trail was among the most heavily damaged units of the state park system during last month’s flooding. While the trail parallels the Greenbrier River, most flood damage along the scenic pathway came from rain-swollen side streams depositing massive amounts of rock on the trailbed, washing out culverts, and triggering landslides, according to England.

The trail remains closed from its southern terminus near Caldwell to a point 3.5 miles to the north, where a temporary parking lot provides access to the 3.5-mile stretch of trail that reopened on Friday. A series of washouts has yet to be repaired from Mile Marker 7 at the end of the newly reopened trail segment to Mile Marker 13 near Anthony, where a 400-foot-long, 150-foot-high rock slide blocks the trail and could take several months to clear, according to Mark Wylie, district administrator for the state parks system.

North of the Anthony slide, the trail is open to its northern terminus in Cass, giving trail users about 65 miles of uninterrupted riding and hiking.

The seven man, three woman Kansas trail repair team was led by two state park superintendents and included seasonal staffers and AmeriCorps workers who volunteered for the detail.

“We are grateful for all the help the Kansas state parks crew provided, along with volunteers from West Virginia,” said Wylie. “It’s an amazing response that expresses how important trails, hiking and state parks are to the public.”

The Kansas trail crew, which departed for home earlier this week, stayed at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, with Kansas State Parks picking up the tab for meals. During their stay, the crew also visited nearby Beartown, Watoga and Droop Mountain Battlefield state parks.

England credited the National Association of State Park Directors with getting the word out about West Virginia flood damage and providing the contacts that led to the Kansas trail crew coming to West Virginia. He said the Sunflower State’s assistance was “a genuine demonstration of dedication to public recreation across state boundaries.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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