The North Carolina Visitor Center




State Parks Anniversary

North Carolina State Parks:  100 Years Old and Going Strong

by Neill Lee

You probably know by now that the National Park Service is celebrating it 100th anniversary this year.  But you may not know that there is a State Park System that is celebrating its Centennial also.  And it is right out your back door.  Yes, the North Carolina Division of Parks & Recreation, including Lumber River State Park, is celebrating its Centennial in 2016.  And we are throwing a yearlong party to celebrate.

It all began in 1915 when a group of citizens sought to protect the summit of Mt. Mitchell in western North Carolina. ON March 3, 1915, at the urging of Governor Locke Craig, the General Assembly established Mt. Mitchell as the first NC State Park.  When the property was acquired by the state on Mt. Mitchell in 1916, the NC State Park System was off and running.  Fort Macon became the second state park in 1924.  Lumber River was established as an NC State Park in 1989 and was staffed and began operation in 1993, with James Sessoms as the first Superintendent.

Going back to the beginning of the NC State Park System with the establishment of Mt. Mitchell as the first park leads to a fascinating story.  Mt. Mitchell was named for Elisha Mitchell, who was a geology professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  In 1835, while completing a survey of the Black Mountain range in western NC, he determined that several mountains, including what would later be named Mt. Mitchell in his honor, were higher than Grandfather Mountain, which was then thought to be the highest in the region.  Measurements he made in 1838 and 1844 confirmed this and also that Mt. Mitchel was higher than Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, which had been thought at the time to be the highest peak in the eastern United States.  While verifying his measurements in 1857, Mitchell fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls.

Everyone has read that Mt. Mitchell is “the highest peak east of the Mississippi River” which it is, but the whole truth gives it an even higher distinction.  It is actually the highest peak east of the Black Hills of western South Dakota, where Mt. Rushmore is located, and the highland foothills of Colorado.  This is much further west than the Mississippi.

All of the parks in he NC Division of Parks & Recreation are holding special events throughout 2016 to celebrate the Centennial.  Lumber River State Park held a Grand Opening for The Wire Pasture, its newest development, in April.  The Wire Pasture is located on the river between Maxton and Pembroke.  The park also celebrated with its 6th Annual Chalk Banks Challenge in May at its northern headquarters at Chalk Banks in Wagram.  The celebration continues on July 16th with the 7th Annual Lumber River Day Festival at Princess Ann in Orrum. The public is invited to come out for a great day in the park including free canoe rides, many fun children’s activities, bluegrass music, antique tractors, bouncy house, slides, and miniature train rides, pony rides, food and ice cream, free giveaways, and much more fun.

Lumber River will continue the celebration into the fall and to the end of the year with many programs scheduled for the public, including the extremely popular guided canoe and kayak trips on the river, guided fishing trips, nature hikes, night hikes, and many more programs.  Visit the state parks website at to see when these programs are scheduled or call the park office at (910) 628-4564 for more information about these and other events and programs in the park.  Visit the park any day and hike the park’s new Track Trail with your children to get some exercise and use the activity brochures provide at the Track Trail to help your children learn about the natural treasures found in the park.  The brochures include Animal Athletes, Nature’s Hide and Seek, And Tree Facts. 

As always children can come to Lumber River State Park, or any state park, and complete several activities or attend ranger led programs to earn a Junior Ranger patch and become a Junior Ranger. Each park’s patch is unique to that park and has an animal, plant, or scene that is different than any other park. Contact the park to learn about this great program.

During 2016, as part of the Centennial celebration, NC State Parks will have a passport program in which you can get a passport stamped at every state park you visit.  You can also celebrate the Centennial by participating in a 100 Mile Walk in the parks nearby and parks throughout the state.  This is a great way to learn about the entire state park system.

So come on out and visit us this year and be a part of this great big party all across the state.