Hanging Rock State Park saw a 6.9 percent increase in visitors from July, 2016 to June 30, 2017, which is their fiscal year, and a substantial 41 percent revenue increase compared to last year, according to Park Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger.
In a yearly state park review, Riddlebarger shared with county commissioners 617,649 people visited Hanging Rock in a 12-month span. The highest attended month came in July with 102,462 visitors and the lowest attendance fell in December and drew in a little more than 20,000 guests.
The park generated $583,352.05 with cabin rentals garnering $162,969, campsite rentals $159,419, bathhouse swim fees $122,430, food and beverage $34,264, apparel $17,045, primitive campsite rentals $13,299 and equipment rentals $11,466.
Riddlebarger said the park received $5,323 in donations from Friends of Sauratown Mountains and Stokes County Arts Council donated patio heaters, graffiti removal cleanser, art supplies, and props for the ranger’s interpretive spider play valued at $600. Other donations included art and craft supplies for interpretive programs, used books for the Little Free Library at Vade Mecum and Eagle Scout Thomas Johnson built six benches at Vade Mecum for the trails and seating outside the interim visitor center saving the park around $600.
Hanging Rock State Park currently has 11 permanent positions and relies on 26 seasonal hires.
Riddlebarger told commissioners additional seasonal staff is needed at the lake and Visitor Center to keep operations open later in the day.
She said more revenue could be generated and better customer service given if operating hours were extended. Additional seasonal hires were also needed for maintenance to maintain the level of park operations.
Riddlebarger noted the park has grown in acreage and facilities, but staffing has stayed the same. She expects the future opening of facilities at Vade Mecum will require more permanent maintenance mechanics and rangers.
“The park needs to explore how to recruit high quality seasonal employees and lifeguards. We had trouble finding applicants this year. Sharing job openings with Joblink at the King Library and the Hanging Rock former employee Facebook page was successful, but not enough,” she said.
Several maintenance projects were completed at Hanging Rock. The AC unit was replaced in one of the cabins and maintenance mechanics completed cabin floor replacements in the old cabins during the slow season. Asbestos was removed from the hotel.
“Electrical outlets were added to the bathhouse, but the service panel upgrade and addition of ceiling fans is still not complete,” Riddlebarger said.
Riddlebarger shared that park staff has begun a zero tolerance initiative of removing graffiti from rocks.
“We have removed hundreds of names and initials using a product and a cordless battery operated power washer,” she said.
A highlight for Riddlebarger and her staff has been working with obs Landscape Architects, who held numerous public meetings in locations around the county to gather opinions from stakeholders regarding the expansion plan for Vade Mecum.
In January of this year, an open house was held at the property and more than 1,000 people toured the grounds.
“Displays of conceptual drawings and vignettes with surveys helped the planners learn what people want to have there, and has helped local people stay in touch and be a part of developing the plan,” Riddlebarger said. “Once plans are final, the objective is to use the bond money by executing the priorities identified in the master plan.”
Another encouraging statistic shared was a 13 percent increase in programs the park offers.
Park Ranger Sam Koch oversaw 456 programs with around 10,300 people in attendance.
“We don’t track how many people attend our art receptions, farmers market, Polar Plunge or Reach the Peaks, which are offered by volunteers, but will attempt to in the future,” Riddlebarger said. “We also didn’t record the number of people who attended Friends of Sauratown Mountains guided hikes or the Vade Mecum open house.”
Safety is always a concern at Hanging Rock and Riddlebarger said two separate visitors fell in February resulting in one death and one serious life threatening injury. Both victims were life flighted. Park staff were the first on scene and provided medical care.
“Our park staff continues to train in-house and with local responders in an effort to make calls more efficient and professional,” she said.
Two large colored signs were erected on Hanging Rock trail to inform hikers of the potential danger associated with hiking.
The park made history this year, as being the first in a North Carolina State Park to ever administer Narcan, a narcotic blocker used to treat narcotic drug overdose.
“Sadly, it’s a sign of our times,” Riddlebarger said.
After the presentation Commissioner Ernest Lankford asked the superintendent if she believed the increase of visitors were locally or from other areas.
“I think it’s both,” she said. “Tory Mabe, who works for the county, did some surveys at the beginning of the year to ask people where they’re coming from and he got some interesting data.”
Riddlebarger shared events such as Stokes Soup in a Bowl and the annual Polar Plunge are drawing in locals who may not have visited the park in years, but she’s also seeing a rise in out of state guests.
On a recent blog, she said Hanging Rock was voted as the most enchanting place in North Carolina.
“I think the word is getting out,” she said.
Commissioner James Booth thanked Riddlebarger for a successful year and Commissioner Mendenhall praised the educational aspect the park continues to promote.
“There’s so many good things going on,” added Commissioner Ronda Jones. “I’m very appreciative. Keep up the good work.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.