FORT MACON STATE Park has been named the 2015 North Carolina State Park of the Year by the NC Division of Parks and Recreation and will hold that distinction throughout the year-long centennial celebration of the state parks system.
“One of the reasons so many of us love living in North Carolina is due to the beautiful greenery, mountains, beaches and undisturbed land around us in the state parks,” said Secretary Susan Kluttz, NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “There are so many outstanding parks to choose from, so I know this was a difficult decision. Congratulations to all those who care for Fort Macon State Park and welcome visitors from around the world there.”
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 expanded recreation opportunities, volunteerism, interpretive programming and sustainability.
“It’s fitting that during our 100th anniversary, Fort Macon will be honored as State Park of the Year. It was the first North Carolina state park open for visitors, having been created in 1924,” said Mike Murphy, state park director. “With its outstanding professional staff and careful stewardship of both fragile natural resources and a historic landmark, Fort Macon represents all that a state park should be.”
As a regal welcome into the Beaufort Channel, Fort Macon State Park’s flags fly high above the fully-intact fortress, welcoming visitors to the Crystal Coast and warning enemies that she is still on guard. The five-sided brick structure stands as proudly today as she did in the 1800s, complete with battle scars to show for her years of protection.
Garrisoned in 1834, the site is one of the best preserved forts in the country, a living example of 19th century architecture and masonry. More than nine million bricks were used in the construction and it took some eight years to complete. Seized by the Confederacy in 1861, the site came under bombardment by Union forces in April of 1862 in order to secure the use of the harbor. A reenactment of the bombardment is celebrated annually at the site.
A visitor’s center and education space serves as a backdrop for workshops and conferences. In addition, audio programs, displays and a variety of artifacts throughout the protected site help illustrate what life was like at the fort during its years of service.
The park itself encompasses pristine beaches, dunes and maritime forest.
With attendance of more than 1.2 million during 2015, the staff at Fort Macon found time to create the park’s first nature and wellness trail, building more than 800 feet of boardwalk and raising over $40,000 in private funding for the project. Rangers and volunteers provided 1,090 free interpretive programs and hosted 14 special events and demonstrations. A new 600-square-foot exhibit space was created, and the staff directed major renovations to the park’s bathhouse and enhanced a sustainability program that reduced water usage by half.
Other nominees for 2015 that were designated Regional State Parks of the Year were Carolina Beach, Eno River and Mount Mitchell state parks, with Mount Mitchell earning a one-time, honorary title as North Carolina State Park of the Century in recognition of its history. In 1916, Mount Mitchell became North Carolina’s first state park and one of the first state parks in the nation.
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 state 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 State Park of the Year, a medallion is attached to a hiking staff that is passed to the current award recipient each year. Lake James State Park in Burke and McDowell counties was honored in 2014.
Fort Macon State Park was authorized in 1924 and is under the direction of Superintendent Randy Newman. The park’s 424 acres encompass a pre-Civil War era fortress, beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and Beaufort Inlet and marshlands.