Lake James State Park in Burke and McDowell counties has been named the North Carolina 2014 State Park of the Year by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
The park was chosen for its “exemplary contribution to the North Carolina state parks mission of stewardship, public service and education,” and specifically recognized for initiatives in natural resource management, volunteerism and expanded recreation opportunities.
“Lake James State Park is fulfilling the promise it has held since 2004 when it was expanded with 2,900 acres of property acquired from Crescent Resources Inc. Its staff has been adept at balancing exciting new recreation opportunities with careful protection of natural resources on that property,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “This exemplary performance led to its selection as Park of the Year.”
During the year, Lake James State Park opened a 15-mile network of mountain biking trails, began offering kayak and canoe rentals and staged multiple special events including an ultra-marathon and the popular Catawba Riverfest. The park’s rangers reached more than 4,000 visitors with special interpretive programs, and guided volunteers for more than 1,100 hours, a 400 percent increase over the previous year. The maintenance staff continued trail construction and launched a project to build canoe-in campsites. The division’s natural resource staff and park rangers initiated a prescribed burn program and a kudzu management program, and staged a 24-hour “bioblitz” to inventory hundreds of plant and animal species in the park.
The state parks system began choosing a Park of the Year in 2010 with nominations from each of four districts. Each of 40 state parks and recreation areas submits an annual report that is objectively scored on progress in recreation, natural resource protection, sustainability, public safety and environmental education. Final judging is by senior and peer administrators. To honor the Park of the Year, a medallion is attached to a hiking staff that is passed to the current award recipient each year. Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County was honored in 2013.
Lake James State Park was authorized in 1987 and is under the direction of Superintendent Nora Coffey. The park encompasses 3,515 acres and reported 398,148 visitors in 2013