North Carolina State Parks

About this collection

Welcome to the North Carolina State Parks digital collection, a trove of materials relating to the natural and cultural history of the state parks system gathered from the holdings of the State Archives, State Library and N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. The story of North Carolina’s state parks – beginning in 1916 – is interwoven with stories of its people and their connection to the landscape. This collection reflects that intimate connection and was prepared as part of the 2016 centennial celebration of the state parks system.

Many of the items in this digital collection are photographs, drawings, and postcards in the custody of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. These materials include both historical and contemporary images of varied topics, such as: the creation of individual parks, significant public events held in the parks, animals and plants, park scenery, recreation activities, and park visitors. Many of the items were digitized by Clemson University Libraries for the Open Parks Network, a project sponsored by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The digitized items in this collection are representative of the extensive image collection held by the state parks. Images can be downloaded directly from this site using a tab at the top of the individual image page. Questions about use of images can be directed to Denise Williams, Operations Administrative Assistant, Archival Coordinator for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation at denise.williams@ncparks.gov or 919-707-9341.

Selected items from the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation records in the custody of the State Archives of North Carolina are also included in this digital collection. The archival documents, ranging in date from the 1910s to the 1980s, include information on how the parks were selected, developed, managed, and maintained over the hundred-year history of the State Parks system. They included correspondence, reports, and studies and cover a wide range of topics including:

  • The natural history, ecology, and conservation of North Carolina’s state parks - Park naturalists regularly provided reports on the botany, zoology, and geology of parks, as well as helped to curate museum exhibits, talks, and nature trails for general environmental education. The impacts of beach erosion, hurricane damage, flooding, and forest fires have been perpetual issues at various state parks for decades. The identification and protection of unique ecological areas has been a significant driver for the establishment of new state parks and for the enforcement of specific rules and regulations governing activities within the parks.
  • The development of state parks as recreation areas - Development plans were usually limited by funding, so in many parks it took decades for goals to be realized. Initial plans might only have included providing access to the parks by building hiking trails, roads, parking lots, and possibly pit latrines and water wells. But, with greater public interest in the parks came greater revenue, and more extensive facilities could be built including water and sewer systems, electric power systems, cabins and campsites, picnic grounds, bathhouses, boat docks, concessions, museums, and more.
  • Larger historical and cultural subjects - Much of the initial infrastructure development of the oldest state parks – Fort Macon, Hanging Rock, Morrow Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and William B. Umstead – was achieved through projects funded and manned by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. Documents regarding the acquisition of land to create conservation and recreation areas expose the tensions between the interests of private land owners and the public at large. Many State Historic Sites in North Carolina were originally conceived of and administered as part of the State Parks system. And, while there was never a legal basis for segregation in the state parks, until the 1960s, with the exceptions of Jones Lake, Reedy Creek (part of William B. Umstead State Park), and Hammocks Beach, most park facilities were for whites only, but there were frequent calls to provide equal access to state parks in North Carolina for all people.
    • Items from the State Library of North Carolina’s collection include promotional and informational materials for specific parks and the parks system; various state park master plans and general management plans; and brief histories of North Carolina’s state parks and recreation areas. The materials span from the 1950s to the early 2000s.

      For more information about North Carolina’s State Parks, see: