Battleship North Carolina, Fort Fisher State Rec Area see increases in visitors

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The U.S.S North Carolina. File photo.
The U.S.S North Carolina. File photo.

Visitors made their way in greater numbers to several attractions across the state of North Carolina over the last year, including to two local draws, the Battleship North Carolina in downtown Wilmington and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area on Pleasure Island.

According to a release from the office of Gov. Pat McCrory, the Battleship North Carolina saw a 4.4 percent increase of visitors over the 2015 – 2016 fiscal year, which ended June 30. That increase was the fifth highest in the state for divisions that fall under the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, behind only the North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina State Parks, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and the North Carolina Zoo.

Meaghan Holmes, promotions director for the battleship, said 223,000 visitors stepped on board during that time period.

“We’ve been on a very steady increase over the past few years,” Holmes said. “We’re just continuing on that path.”

Increased marketing of the attraction in cities such as Myrtle Beach, Charlotte and Raleigh have helped boost attendance, according to Holmes. The decommissioned United States Navy vessel, which served in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, will soon undergo major renovations. Holmes said work to build a cofferdam and repair the ship’s aging steel hull will begin in the next few weeks. The long-anticipated and much-needed project will take about 18 months at the cost of $17 million, much of which was paid for through donations made through the attraction’s Generations Campaign.

Further south, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area welcomed over 900,000 people from July 2015 to June 2016. According to Park Superintendent Jeff Owen, that’s slightly above average for a one-year period. The biggest draws to the outdoor area are the beach strand, which includes four miles of beach where people can go off-roading and drive on the sand, and the 1.1-mile walking trail through the preserve.

The boardwalk over the salt marsh along Fort Fisher State Recreation Area's Basin Trail. Photo courtesy of Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.
The boardwalk over the salt marsh along Fort Fisher State Recreation Area’s Basin Trail. Photo courtesy of Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.

“We are still providing free parking, and in beach communities that’s pretty rare,” Owen said. “I think that’s part of our appeal.”

For the second year in a row, the shores of Fort Fisher are home to more than 80 turtle nests. As of Friday, Aug. 12, Owen said 83 nests had been found.

“We’re just two shy of our record of 85, which we had last year,” Owen said.

While last year’s banner year including the nest of a rare Kemp’s Ridley turtle, which unlike other sea turtles lays eggs during the day, Owen said this year has been more homogenous.

“We’ve found one green sea turtle nest so far,” said Owen. “The others, we believe, are all loggerhead turtles.”

New features to the recreation area are on their way, including renovations to the bath house in the parking lot near the visitors’ center on Loggerhead Road that would add extra restroom facilities for beach goers. Owen said the park recently received approval to build another one-mile trail through the salt marshes, which are home to several different kinds of bird, animal and plant species.

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