By Associated Press - Monday, February 1, 2021

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina State Parks had record-breaking visitation last year.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Saturday that the high numbers underscore the public’s craving for outdoor space and exercise during the coronavirus pandemic.

State parks spokeswoman Katie Hall said that North Carolina’s 41 state parks and recreation areas had 19.8 million visitors in 2020. That is 400,000 more visitors than any other year on record. It’s also 1.2 million more visitors than in 2019. The previous record for visitation was 19.4 million visitors in 2017.

North Carolina Parks staff say the public has recognized that outdoor recreation is a safer activity compared to the indoors during the pandemic. Health officials say the coronavirus spreads mainly through exposure to respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, talks or breathes.

But the increased crowds have led to increased challenges. They include overflowing parking lots, litter and damage to natural resources from heavier use of trails and popular sites.

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