Improvements at Graveyard Fields, an overlook near the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, will increase safety at the popular site, officials tell several mountain publications.
Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418.8) closed April 22 and reopened at the beginning of this month with twice as many parking spaces as before, a new bathroom, and improvements to the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail, which include a boardwalk and signage. The National Park Service will also lower the speed limit in the area and now prohibits parking along the shoulder of the road.
The $360,000 enhancement was unveiled late in the day July 3 without announcement, according to Blue Ridge Now.
Willa Mays, chief development officer for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, which funded the renovation, told the Transylvania Times that safety has been an issue because the small recreation area's 17-space parking lot often overflowed with visitors' vehicles. Now there are 40 parking spaces.
Graveyard Field is popular in the summer for hiking the 2.3-mile Loop Trail, which includes three waterfalls, blueberries and wildlife viewing opportunities. The Loop Trail also provides access to Black Balsam Knob, Tennant Mountain and the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest.
Before changes were made, visitors frequently filled the existing lot, and parked on its median as well as several hundred feet of the shoulder of the road in both directions, Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods said in a news release in April. "This situation resulted in numerous incidents," he said.
"No parking" signs are posted for about 500-600 feet along the shoulder of the road, the Asheville Citizen-Times said earlier this month. Rangers have been issuing citations, which Don Coleman, supervisory park ranger, said can cost up to $5,000.
The speed limit in the area will be decreased from 45 to 35 mph this summer from Milepost 417 at Looking Glass Rock Overlook to about Milepost 420 near the entrance to the Shining Rock Wilderness Area, Coleman said.
A Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation video featuring the Steep Canyon Rangers has footage of the area and early renovation work, as well as an explanation of why preserving the area is so important.
A survey of National Parks visitation in 2013 released this week finds that 16 million visits to the nine national parks in North Carolina yielded more than $1 billion in spending during the year despite the fact that overall visitation in '13 dropped by 3.2 percent (9.1 million visits) compared to 2012.
The 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects report says the Blue Ridge Parkway experienced the largest decline of any park, with 2.3 million fewer visitors in 2013 than in 2012. The decline was primarily attributed to several lengthy weather-related road closures during the first three months of the year.
Overall, the drop in park visits was attributed to economic factors, weather, including Hurricane Sandy which damaged 70 parks on the East Coast in October 2012 and caused problems into July 2013, and park closures during the federal government shutdown in October 2013.
Nationwide, there were more than 273 million recreation visits to National Park Service properties, and visitors spent $14.6 billion in local gateway regions (defined as communities within 60 miles of a park). The contribution of this spending to the national economy was 238,000 jobs, $9.2 billion in labor income, $15.6 billion in value added (contribution to the Gross Domestic Product), and $26.5 billion in output (retail sales, business-to-business sales and exports).
Most park visits in 2013 were day trips, with 23.8 percent described as "non-local" and 19.2 percent local. Among the 53 percent that were overnight trips, 2.9 percent included a stay in a park campground and 1.1 percent include a stay in a park lodge. Another 6.4 percent of visits included camping outside of the park.
The $4.4 billion spent on lodging in hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, and an additional $354.5 million spent on camping fees make up the largest share of visitor spending. The $4 billion spent on food and drink represents the next largest share.
North Carolina parks saw 16.13 million visitors and $1.04 billion in spending, while supporting 15,483 jobs. National park employees in North Carolina earned $471.5 million.
On the Blue Ridge Parkway, 62 percent of visits were in North Carolina and 38 percent were in Virginia, but North Carolina hosted only 44 percent of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park compared to 56 percent in Tennessee.
Park visits, spending and jobs (with the Parkway and Smokies figures representing both states for each park) were:
+ Blue Ridge Parkway: 12.87 million visits, $782.9 million in spending, 11,283 jobs.
+ Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 2.21 million visits, $133 million in spending, 1,837 jobs.
+ Cape Lookout National Seashore: 416,569 visits, $17.64 million in spending, 246 jobs.
+ Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site: 81,711 visits, $4.5 million in spending, 65 jobs.
+ Fort Raleigh National Historic Site: 263,599 visits, $14.5 million in spending, 210 jobs.
+ Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9.35 million visits, $734 million in spending, 10,734 jobs.
+ Guilford Courthouse National Military Park: 541,581 visits, $32.8 million in spending, 477 jobs.
+ Moores Creek National Battlefield: 72,329 visits, $4.37 million in spending, 60 jobs.
+ Wright Brothers National Memorial: 447,795 visits, $24.6 million in spending, 354 jobs.
The shooting range closed in May 2010 because of stray bullets leaving firing lanes. Since then, the Forest Service has raised berms and reconstructed shooting stations, according to a news release.
Money from the Forest Service, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the National Rifle Association paid for renovation work.
The shooting range has 25-yard pistol and 100-yard rifle ranges and originally opened in 1996. Prior to closing, it averaged 1,000 visitors per month, according to the Forest Service.
Two North Carolina state parks on the coast have begun renting kayaks and paddleboards through a public-private partnership with a company that will also offer paddling instruction and conduct kayak tours from the parks.
At Carolina Beach, the service is at a soundside beach next to the park’s marina, the May issue of the state parks newsletter, The Steward, says. At Hammocks Beach, it’s located near an established paddling launch.
Paddle NC says it has new single, tandem and specialized fishing kayaks, and standup paddle boards for rent. Paddling instruction is offered though the company's Fluid Motion Paddling School and is taught by American Canoe Association-certified instructors.
Half-day and full-day tours of small groups will be available. "Our guides will show you the hidden coast of Carolina Beach State Park [or] Hammocks Beach State Park, or you can try one of our off-site eco-adventures," the company's website says.
At Carolina Beach, the site lists an eco-tour and a sunset tour for $50 each; tours of Masonboro Inlet, Shark's Tooth and Keg islands, and Zeke's Island for $60 each; and a full-day river tour for $83. Paddleboard tours or instruction cost $50. Tours at Hammocks Beach are similar.
Single kayaks, fishing kayaks and paddleboard rentals are $30 for two hours, $40 for half-day and $55 for full day at both parks. Tandems are $40, $55 and $65. At Hammocks Beach, two-day and three-day rentals of kayaks and canoes are available.
Update: The Forest Service said Friday at mid-day that it had reopened the parking lot at Max Patch though the fire continued to burn at 60 acres. The campground at Harmon Den and the two Forest Service roads (see below) remained closed. The news release did not mention Cold Spring picnic area.
Closed areas may reopen Saturay afternoon, the release says.
A fire in the Harmon Den area of the Pisgah National Forest is causing several areas to be closed, the National Forest Service said today.
The wildfire covers 75 acres and is expected to grow to 100 acres by the end of the day, the Forest Service said in a news release issued at mid-day.
Officials have closed the:
* Harmon Den Horse Camp, which has 10 sites and bridle trails.
* Cold Spring picnic area, which offers fishing and hiking and horseback riding.
* Max Patch parking lot, which provides access to the namesake grassy summit, hiking and horseback trails, and a fishing pond.
Forest Service Road (FSR) 148 (Cold Springs Road) and FSR 148A (Brown's Gap Road) are also closed.
Firefighters are establishing fire lines and conducting back-burning operations to contain the wildfire.
NCDOT message boards will provide information about the fire, which is producing smoke visible along I40 in the Pigeon Gorge, according to the Forest Service.
No structures are threatened, and no injuries are reported. The Forest Service is investigating.
Men's Journal magazine has named Jockeys Ridge State Park among its top 20 beaches in America, though as others have pointed out it's not really a beach.
The magazine piece looks at beaches that are best for sports, and focuses on Jockeys Ridge's sand dunes, which offer "an ideal launch for hang gliders and kite fliers with slopes that beckon sandboarders when the crowds thin."
The backside of the Outer Banks park does sit on the Intracoastal Waterway, but the Atlantic Ocean is across the highway and a couple of blocks away.
Click on the photo below for a closer look at Jockeys Ridge State Park.
The National Forest Service announced fee increases at seven recreation sites among the four national forests in North Carolina. The 2014 season fees will be effective May 7.
According to a news release, the changes are at:
Cedar Point Campground in Croatan National Forest. Nightly campsite fees will rise from $12 to $15 in 2014 and to $20 in 2016. The surcharge for electricity at single sites will increase from $5 to $7 per site this year, but not go up in 2016 (all sites have electricity).
Fees at double campsites will go from $24 to $30 in May and to $40 in 2016. The electrical surcharge will increase from $10 to $14 per site but not increase in '16.
Camping fees at Cedar Point were last increased in 1998, the release says.
Arrowhead Campground and Canebrake Horse Camp in Uwharrie National Forest. Single campsite fees, now $12, will be $15 in May and go to $18 in 2016; double sites go from $24 to $30 in May and to $36 in '16. Electricity, which is available at 33 of the 50 sites at Arrowhead and all 28 sites at Canebrake, costs $3 now, but will be $5 in May and $7 in 2016.
Sliding Rock Recreation Area in Pisgah National Forest. The daily fee increases from $1 to $2 per person. Annual passes remain $25.
The Forest Service says Sliding Rock sees 1,000 or more people a day in season and the higher fees will help to expand lifeguards' hours and maintain the site.
Three shooting ranges in the Nantahala National Forest. Fees will be standardized at $3 per person per day and $25 per person for an annual permit.
At Dirty John Shooting Range, a daily permit was $3 per vehicle and the annual permit was $7 per vehicle. Previously sold 2014 permits for Dirty John will be honored at Dirty John. At Panther Top Shooting Range they were $2 per person a day and already $25 per person for an annual permit.
The new fees are a first for Moss Knob Shooting Range.
The three Nantahala shooting ranges have recently been improved, the Forest Service points out, and the higher fees "will help to maintain these improvements as expected by those who use the sites."
The range and berms have been reconstructed and leveled, a news release says. Work continues on a parking lot and new access road approaching from behind the shooting line and safety berm.
Work was announced last summer but delayed until November. In November, the Forest Service said it would reopen in the spring.
Moss Knob, which is in the Highlands / Franklin area, has four firing lanes or stations on a 150-yard range with frame targets set at 25 and 50 yards.
The National Forest Service says Moss Knob sees "moderate" use. The Dirty John Shooting Range, west of Franklin, gets "light" use. (The Panther Top Shooting Range near Murphy is also a National Forest site, but the NFS does not have a web page for it.)
The closure of the left loop was announced January 2.
The 42-mile, four-loop trail network is open to hikers and horseback riders, but is best known as a challenging mountain bike course.
Vehicles may be brought to South Core Banks and Shackleford Banks beginning on March 16, the National Park Service says.
There are no roads on the national seashore; all driving is on loose sand. Four-wheel drive is highly recommended.
A permit is required to leave a vehicle unattended for more than 24 hours. Permits will allow owners to park vehicles in storage lots in the Long Point, Great Island, and Lighthouse areas or at one of the seashore's rental cabins.
Permits are available now at the Harkers Island Visitor Center and will be available beginning March 16 at the Great Island and Long Point park offices.
To obtain a permit, visitors must bring the vehicle's registration, insurance certificate and their driver’s licenses, or include a copy of these documents if mailing the permit application found online.
The cost is $15 per week "or portion thereof."