In honor of the centennial anniversary of North Carolina’s State Parks in 2016, hundreds of folders of historical documents from the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation records collection at the State Archives have been digitized and added to the North Carolina State Parks digital collection at North Carolina Digital Collections. Earlier this year, the State Archives partnered with the Division of Parks and Recreation to create the State Parks digital collection, which has made available hundreds of historical and modern photographs that feature the natural and cultural history of the parks. It is hoped that the addition of archival documents, ranging in date from the 1910s to the 1980s, will help provide a richer story and context of how the parks have been selected, developed, managed, and maintained over the hundred-year history of the State Parks system.
The natural history, ecology, and conservation of North Carolina’s state parks are prominent topics in the archival documentation presented at NCDC. Park naturalists regularly provided reports on the botany, zoology, and geology of parks, as well as helped to curate museum exhibits, talks, and nature trails for general environmental education. The impacts of beach erosion, hurricane damage, flooding, and forest fires have been perpetual issues at various state parks for decades. The identification and protection of unique ecological areas has been a significant driver for the establishment of new state parks and for the enforcement of specific rules and regulations governing activities within the parks.
The development of state parks as recreation areas is another dominant theme in the records of the Division of Parks and Recreation. Development plans were usually limited by funding, so in many parks it took decades for goals to be realized. Initial plans might only have included providing access to the parks by building hiking trails, roads, parking lots, and possibly pit latrines and water wells. But, with greater public interest in the parks came greater revenue, and more extensive facilities could be built including water and sewer systems, electric power systems, cabins and campsites, picnic grounds, bathhouses, boat docks, concessions, museums, and more.
Throughout these documents, many interesting themes emerge that reference and reflect subjects of larger historical and cultural significance. A great deal of the initial infrastructure development of the oldest state parks – Fort Macon, Hanging Rock, Morrow Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and William B. Umstead – was achieved through projects funded and manned by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. Documents regarding the acquisition of land to create conservation and recreation areas expose the tensions between the interests of private land owners and the public at large. Many State Historic Sites in North Carolina were originally conceived of and administered as part of the State Parks system. And, while there was never a legal basis for segregation in the state parks, until the 1960s, with the exceptions of Jones Lake, Reedy Creek (part of William B. Umstead State Park), and Hammocks Beach, most park facilities were for whites only, but there were frequent calls to provide equal access to state parks in North Carolina for all people.
For more information on the history of North Carolina State Parks, please check out these NCpedia pages developed by the State Library, in conjunction with the Division of Parks and Recreation, to coincide with the state parks centennial celebration.
Exploring North Carolina: North Carolina State Parks, Trails, Lakes, Rivers & Natural Areas
North Carolina History Interactive Timeline: History of North Carolina State Parks, Recreation & Natural Areas
For more information on the Division of Parks and Recreation records collection, please search our MARS catalog.