CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WWAY) — Carolina Beach State Park was established in 1969, but it’s never had as many people enjoy its numerous activities than in 2020.
“Five years ago we were at about half a million,” park superintendent Chris Helms said. “We had gotten to 890,000 as of 2019. And then in 2020, we did break a million for the first time.”
The park is one of 28 state parks across North Carolina that recorded visitor increases in 2020. Helms attributes the record spike to the impacts of COVID in the Cape Fear.
“It’d been busy before, but we really saw that people were looking for new things to do,” Helms continued. “The area beaches were closed for a time. A lot of other recreationally opportunities and things that people are used to doing, was closed for a time. So people saw state parks as an opportunity to get out in the park and enjoy the outdoors.”
Helms says the park saw a steady flow of people all throughout last year, even in months that don’t typically see a large number of visitors. But he points out that any season is a good time to visit the park.
“You can visit different times of the year and actually see the park looking different,” Helms said. “Different species of flowers, different species of wildlife.”
While Helms acknowledges the pandemic’s impact on last year’s numbers, he also feels people are turning to the park more often as an escape.
“I feel like Wilmington, as it grows and there’s less green space, there’s less forested areas,” Helms added. “We feel like people are discovering our trails for dog walking, for jogging, for cross-country running. Or just for relaxing, for mental release.”
Helms expects a dip in visitors this year as life slowly returns to a sense of normalcy, but feels the park will still see its share of people.
“As things do reopen, as normalcy with movie theaters or maybe things like that occur, probably our visitation might go back down a little bit to normal,” Helms said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that there are folks that have discovered the park and are going to enjoy the park on a daily basis.”