When was the last time you visited a State Park?

The answer for me – it has been a while. To remedy this, the family decided to visit Chimney Rock State Park in Chimney Rock, North Carolina.  Since my wife is the vacation planner for the family, and it is my job to drive, I went into this outing not knowing what to expect.  Overwhelmingly, I was impressed with the park, the staff, and the amazing scenery and views.

Chimney Rock State Park looking east towards Lake Lure. Taken on Monday, 11 August 2008 from the Opera Box observation point, Chimney Rock, NC. Photo dedicated to the public domain by Mark Turner.

For over 100 years the Morse family owned Chimney Rock and shared it with the general public as a fee based family attraction.  In 2007, the state of North Carolina purchased the land and turned it into a state park. Today, it is managed by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation as a unit of the state park system, while the day to day operations are conducted by Chimney Rock Management, LLC.  The management objective is to operate and maintain the park in a manner consistent with the way it was run by the Morse family for over 100 years, while conserving the land for future generations.

Within the park, there are many hiking trails, however the focal point is the 315-foot monolith located high above Hickory Nut Gorge.  From the parking lot there are 2 ways to get to the top of the monolith.  First, you can climb 591 stairs.  The stairs are not that bad but can be a scary if you do not like heights.  Second, you can take an elevator.  The elevator carries you 26 stories through the heart of the mountain and takes about 35 seconds.  Once at the top you have about 40 more steps until you get to the Chimney Rock overlook.  The ‘Rock’ is a large, somewhat flat, rocky outcrop with fencing surrounding it and a beautiful view of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.  At the top of the monolith you are at an elevation of 2,280 feet and on a clear day you can see over 75 miles.  I particularly liked the American Flag prominently displayed on the overlook.

So, what is the relevance of State Parks?  Across the U.S. private lands constitute 73% of the landholdings.  Similarly, in the southeastern U.S. over 75% of forest and agricultural land is privately owned. With land access at a premium, state and national parks have many functions, including connecting people to the outdoors and protecting contiguous blocks of habitat for many flora and fauna species.  When you consider this, it makes the contribution of the Morse family even more impressive; rather than developing the property for personal gain, the family chose to work with the state to conserve the area for all to enjoy.

A few fun facts – Chimney Rock State Park was the background for a number of movies including The Last of the Mohicans, Firestarter and A Breed Apart.  Also, just a mile or so down the road is Lake Lure, where Dirty Dancing was filmed.

There is an admission fee to the park and the current reduced rate is $12 for adults and $6 for kids between the ages of 5-15.  Kids under 5 are free.  In my opinion, it was worth the admission.

I had heard of Chimney Rock State Park but it was never really promoted to me.  Nevertheless, I was very impressed with the hospitality and friendliness of the staff, the accommodations, and the scenery.  I highly recommend visiting Chimney Rock State Park.

So, when was the last time you visited a State Park?  Which one?  Let me know.