State Park System Could Easily Be Self-Sustaining | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: The authors of this post are Catherine Konieczny and Sarah Curry, who are contributors to the John Locke Foundation.

    North Carolina's State Park System is made up of 34 state parks, four state recreation areas, and three state natural areas that cost state government $50.8 million last fiscal year. There is no entrance fee to the state parks, and the system currently only generates revenue from camping fees, rental of shelters and other facilities, sale of retail items, operating contracts for marinas and restaurants, and fees for pier permits at the state lakes. These fees and sales only generate $7.8 million per year, leaving a majority of the cost to be picked up by state taxpayers. The major problem with not charging admission is that the many out-of-state visitors benefit at the expense of North Carolina taxpayers, while North Carolinians who choose not to visit their state parks are still forced to pay for them through their taxes.

    So how could the NC state park system be self-sustaining? Charging a minimal admission fee, like the National Park System does, would create an additional revenue stream. In the National Park model, admission fees and additional charges for camp reservations, rentals, permits, etc. go directly toward maintaining the parks where the services are provided. The cost of maintenance increases as more users enjoy the park, since increased visitation will result in more cars, cleanup, and general maintenance. Under this model, a park that receives more visitors will also generate more revenue to cover the associated maintenance costs.

    Another reason to charge admission is to capitalize on visitors to North Carolina's National Parks. North Carolina is home to two large National Park System sites, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smokey Mountains National Park, which each attract over 10 million visitors a year. These large national parks also attract visitors to state parks, since the area becomes a destination where multi-day visitors may visit multiple parks. Of the five states with the most-visited national parks — North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, California, and Colorado — only North Carolina and Tennessee have free admission to all their state parks.

State 2014 Attendance User Fee Revenues Fee System Revenue Per Visitor
NC 15,600,000 $7,848,509 Optional camp reservations, facility use fees and boat fees $0.50
AZ 2,250,000 $11,900,000 Entrance fees, camping reservation, and facility use fees $5.29
CA 68,736,536 $97,012,394 Entrance, parking and camping $1.41
CO 11,948,406 $28,370,985 Entrance and camping $2.37
    *Tennessee did not publish data for 2014

    North Carolina's state park system's mission is to "conserve and protect representative examples of the natural beauty, ecological features and recreational resources of statewide significance; to provide outdoor recreational opportunities in a safe and healthy environment; and to provide environmental education opportunities that promote stewardship of the state's natural heritage". That mission can be fulfilled not only for the citizens of North Carolina, but for all visitors to the state's parks, even with a small admission fee.

    If the state decided to charge a nominal admission fee to state parks to cover operating expenses, they could likely cover all the costs associated with the entire system. According to the 2014 annual report, the operating expense per visitor to the NC State Parks was $2.30. If the state park system introduced a $3 per person admission fee, it would generate $46.8 million in revenue.

    Some might feel that, if the state starts charging an admission fee, then the high numbers of visitors will decrease. Normally, I would say this is a valid concern, but if the Governor's recommendation is taken, state parks along with other state attractions will be transferred out of the Department of Natural Resources and into the Department of Cultural Resources. One of the priorities of the transfer will be to promote all sites for tourism through more intentional marketing. This increased marketing of sites should offset any decrease in attendance due to the admission fee.

    If a $3 fee proves successful, an attempt to raise the entrance fee to a mere $5 to match the California average could generate around $78 million for the system. Those revenues would more than cover the total cost of state parks, and give some extra funding to help ensure the mission of the State Parks System is honored to its fullest extent.
Go Back

Leave a Guest Comment

Your Name or Alias
Your Email Address ( your email address will not be published)
Enter Your Comment ( no code or urls allowed, text only please )

Bad Bill Of The Week: More Government Meddling In The Workplace John Locke Foundation Guest Editorial, Editorials, Op-Ed & Politics NCGA: Showing up is half the battle


Latest Op-Ed & Politics

House Republicans were relieved nothing globally significant happened this week while they hashed out who will replace ousted Kevin McCarthy as the next Speaker of the House.
The Biden administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is instructing Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents to ask immigrants they encounter for their “preferred pronouns” and to use gender-neutral language while on the job.
State Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls' federal First Amendment lawsuit has been reassigned from a judge appointed by former President Barack Obama to a colleague appointed by former President George W. Bush.
A Jewish student at Columbia University doubled down after harassment and threats — over her accurate and consistent reporting on campus anti-Semitism — initially spurred her to flee campus.
Nassau County Executive blows the whistle on crime problem with illegals
House Republicans are setting the stage for what could be a vote on articles of impeachment against President Joe Biden early next year.


After serving for twenty-seven years in state government, including the last three as secretary for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Eric Boyette is retiring.
A recent NBC News national poll revealed that a majority of respondents, 52%, said there is a gun in their household, up from previous years and a record number since the poll question’s inception in 1999.
Members of the terrorist organization Hamas were left frustrated after hearing many leftists in the United States and throughout the world were skeptical that Hamas had brutally massacred over 1,300 Jewish civilians after Hamas had put serious effort into livestreaming the atrocities.
The Hamas plan, shared by other radical Islamic groups, to drive the Jews out of Israel is having an unintended effect, as rising anti-Semitism around the globe after the Hamas massacre of Israelis on October 7 is reportedly catalyzing Jews to consider moving to Israel.
The State Board of Elections on Tuesday unanimously certified the results of the October and November 2023 municipal elections in North Carolina.
New Jersey officials announced Tuesday that the state would be joining a growing list of Democrat-led states slated to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.


A bill passed by the House Alcohol Beverage Control Committee would allow ABC boards to permit ABC stores to be open on Sundays in North Carolina.


Back to Top