National and State Parks

South Carolina 2001 Tourism Report Series


An overview of the demographics, economics and trends associated with activities in state parks and national parks in South Carolina and the United States.



Published by the Marketing Office of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Columbia, SC, in order to support the development and operation of tourism and recreation businesses.                                                       


Economics of National and State Parks

In the year 2000 total visitation to the 84 million acres of the United States National Park Service system exceeded 430 million visits.  Similarly, the 12.7 million acres of state parks in America attracted total visitation of over 767 million visits in 2000.  State parks, national parks, and similar protected areas benefit citizens and natural and cultural resources alike.  These parks take on increasing importance each year as other tracts of forests, farms and range land constantly disappear for urban and surburban uses.  While park attendance continues to grow steadily, especially among state parks, overall park budgets have fallen substantially since 1980, causing park managers to turn to various user fees and park amenity partnerships to continue their levels of service.  By the numbers, park systems constitute big business in nearly every state of the union.


Parks Visitation in South Carolina

TravelScope, the national travel survey coordinated by the U.S. Travel Data Center, collects data on tourists who travel for tourism, including visiting state and national parks.  According to TravelScope, almost 1.5 million tourists visited the state and national park system in South Carolina.  This number includes only visitors who traveled 50 miles or more one way or overnight (which eliminates most local or residential visitors). They stayed an average of 4 nights, spent an average of $404, and typically had 2-3 members in their travel party.


Also according to TravelScope, April and May tie as the most popular visitation months to South Carolina parks, followed by August, July and September.  Thirty-three percent of the travel parties were primarily in the state for recreation and entertainment, while another 28% were also visiting friends and relatives.  In addition to their activities at the parks, the visitors enjoyed history and museum activities, shopping, beach and lake activities, and hunting, fishing and hiking.


Charleston was the most frequently visited destination by park visitors, followed by Myrtle Beach.  Over one-fourth of the state’s park visitors are South Carolina residents, although sizeable numbers also originate from North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and New York.


The median age of the head of household of a park visitor travel party in South Carolina is 47.  The median household income is $42,500-$44,999.  Seven percent of the park visitor parties are African-American.  Eighty-four percent travel by car.  Lodging is well-distributed among hotels, condos and time shares, RVs and campers and tents, and other lodging such as staying with friends or relatives.


National Demographics for Park Visitors

At the U.S. level, the TravelScope data reveals that nearly 81 million Americans visited state or national parks somewhere in the country.  They stayed an average of 4-5 nights, spent an average of $656, and had an average party size of 2-3.


Nationally, July was the most popular month for visiting parks nationwide, followed by August, June, May and September.  Most travelers are in the vicinity of the park purely for purposes of recreation and entertainment, or else to visit friends and relatives.  In addition to the park activities, they also enjoy history and museum activities, shopping, and hunting/fishing/hiking.


Park visitation is well-distributed across the country.  The top destination states for park tourism are California (10%), Arizona (5%), Florida (4%) and Colorado (4%).  However, the largest number of park visitors also originates in California, followed by Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois.


The median age of the head of household of a park visitor party in the U.S. is 43.  The median household income is $45,000-$47,499.  Only 3% of park visitor parties nationally are African-American.  A notable 27% of the nation’s park visitors travel by air to their park destination, while 67% drive.  Less than half stay in hotels at their destination.


State Park Visitation

Data for 2000 from the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) shows that South Carolina State Parks received a total of 9,563,510 visitors (both residents and tourists) in 2000, including 1,301,634 who stayed overnight and 8,261,876 who visited a state park on a day trip.  South Carolina’s State Park system ranks 23rd in the nation in visitation.  California’s state parks are the most popular with nearly 77 million visitors.


According to the State Park Information Resources Center at Indiana University, in 1999 South Carolina administered 58 park areas, encompassing 81,572 acres.  South Carolina State Parks generated over $15 million in revenue, compared to the $1.8 million in capital expenditures reportedly spent on them.


State parks are more popular than national parks but not as popular as Forest Service areas.  In a study of total visitation to state parks, national parks, Forest Service areas, national wildlife refuges and similar sites, state parks accounted for 29.47% of the total visitor days.  USDA Forest Service areas received the most visitation at 33.82%, followed by Corps of Engineers sites with 15.03% and National Park Service areas with 11.75%.


According to the Spring 2001 South Carolina State Survey, 56% of the residents interviewed had visited a state park in the previous 12 months, including 60% of the males, 54% of the females, 51% of the African-Americans, and 59% of the whites.  Age, education and income had noticeable effects on park visitation.  Sixty-five percent of residents age 18-45 visited parks, dropping to 32% for the 65+ group.  Interest is also highest among college graduates at 64% and among higher income groups ($50,000 and more) at 68.5%.  Interest is well-distributed among urban (56%), suburban (57%) and rural residents (58%), and it ranges from 59% among Upstate residents, to 56.5% in the Midlands and 52% in the Lowcountry.


The State Survey revealed that Sesquicentennial State Park in Columbia was the most popular among survey respondents, followed by Myrtle Beach State Park, Santee State Park, and Table Rock State Park.  In general, park visitors average 5.2 visits each.  Attendance figures collected by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism show that the parks with the highest attendance are Myrtle Beach with over 1 million visitors yearly, Kings Mountain, Table Rock, Hunting Island, Huntington Beach, Santee and Hickory Knob.


The top ten reasons for visiting a South Carolina State Park include: picnics and cookouts, family gatherings and outings, walking, unspecified recreation, camping, nature appreciation, relaxation, fishing, hiking and sightseeing.


National Park Visitation

The National Park System attracted nearly 286 million recreation visits in 2000, nearly 144 million non-recreation visits, 3.4 million tent campers, 2.5 million RV campers, 1.9 million backpackers, and 4.6 million visitors who stayed in concessioner lodging.  Overall, in 2000 the NPS administered 84 million acres (78 million in Federal land), comprising 382 sites.  The NPS reports that its most popular visitation months are July, August and June, followed by May, September, October and April.


National park system units go by numerous designations, all with equal legal standing—national parks, national monuments, national preserves, national rivers, national battlefields, national trails, and so on.


The national parks of the Southeast are the most visited in the country, thanks in part to the ongoing popularity of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  When visits to the adjacent District of Columbia national parks are added in, the combined area attracts one in three national park visitors.  In general, Southeast national park visitation was down 2% from 1999 to 2000.


The National Park Service reports that 937,000 visitors traveled to National Park Service areas in South Carolina in 2000, up 6% from the year before.  The six areas maintained in South Carolina by the NPS include:

·        Fort Sumter Naitonal Monument.  319,147 visitors in 2000, up 6%, 144th most visited NPS area, visitation has declined since 345,345 in 1994.

·        Kings Mountain National Military Park.  257,499 visitors in 2000, all-time high visitation, up 1% from 1999, 4% yearly increases expected, occupying 4,000 acres

·        Cowpens National Battlefield.  212,876 visitors in 2000, up 14%, increase of 65,000 visitors since 1990

·        Congaree Swamp National Monument.  95,619 visitors in 2000, visitation has tripled since 1990, 8% yearly increase expected, 21,000 acres

·        Ninety Six National Historic Site.  28,492 visitors in 2000, up 2%, declining attendance predicted

·        Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.  24,055 visitors in 2000, down 25% from previous year, up from 11,000 in 1995, relatively new site.


Except for the Congaree Swamp, the NPS properties in South Carolina are very small in acreage.  The larger parks with more roaming space and a variety of features tend to draw better attendance.  For example, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nation’s #1 NPS site, has over 81,000 acres and attracts 11,874,910 visitors annually to North Carolina alone; millions more travel the Virginia section.  In addition, none of the South Carolina sites accommodate overnight stays, and in many parks, lodging helps boost attendance and longer stays.


Building a Tourism Park Industry

National and state park visitors want these priorities from their local hosts:

·        Information, including campgrounds, parks, trails, guides to special formations, site histories, and up-to-date checklists with wildlife abundance information.

·        Easy access via rights-of-way, roads, trails, boardwalks, boats and so on.

·        Value


Suggestions for making communities more “park friendly” include:

·        Provide detailed maps of park sites.

·        Provide skilled and friendly hosts and guides for visitors.

·        Post current information on the Internet.

·        Provide a selection of activities, including nature-based, historic, cultural, and physical.  Address the interests of various skill levels and age groups.

·        Provide easy access to amenities—either onsite or nearby—including places where gas, coffee, box meals, sit-down meals, film, sunscreen, bug repellent, hats, waterproof clothing, footgear, camping equipment, souvenirs and lodging can be obtained and where equipment repairs can be made.

·        Address the special needs of the RV crowd, including a list of places where RVs can be repaired.

·        Host information sessions and field trips for local officials on the importance of the park system and nearby parks of interest.

·        Provide marketing tie-ins to current news events.  For instance, the release of The Patriot movie was a time to highlight Revolutionary War parks in South Carolina, just as the Hunley excavation brings renewed interest in Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor.


Recommended Resources

·        “An 8-Year Analysis of State Park Fiscal Trends,” Daniel D. McLean and others for the State Park Information Resources Center, Indiana University, 1999, 7 pp.

·        “State Parks: A Diverse System,” Research Report 00-1, Daniel D. McLean, State Park Information Resources Center, Indiana University, 2000, 8 pp.

·        “Strategic Influence Scanning: A Decade of Trends in the State Parks,” Research Report 00-2, Daniel D. McLean and others, State Park Information Resources Center, Indiana University, 2000, 26 pp.

·        Various reports, The National Association of State Park Directors,

·        Various reports, U.S. National Park Service,

·        National Park Service Statistical Abstract 2000, U.S. National Park Service, 2000, 73 pp.

·        South Carolina State Survey Spring 2001, Institute of Public Affairs, 2001, 50 pp.


Sources and Methodology

In addition to the above sources, selected South Carolina and United States visitation, demographic and travel characteristics were obtained from profiles of visitors compiled by South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism's Office of Tourism Marketing from TravelScope, a national travel survey coordinated by the U.S. Travel Data Center.  TravelScope is based on a monthly sample of 20,000 U.S. households selected from NFO Research Inc.'s consumer mail panel of 450,000 households.  Respondents record details of up to three trips of 50 miles or more one-way or overnight in the previous month.  Responses are sample-balanced to match the US population.  To enhance the sample size, analysis is based on two years of data, and there is a margin of error associated with the reported statistics due to sampling variability.