CARTERET COUNTY – Even a pandemic couldn’t keep people from flocking to the North Carolina coast, and this year, visits continue to increase to many of Carteret County’s top tourist destinations.
According to staff at Cape Lookout National Seashore, Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, Fort Macon State Park, and Pine Knoll Shores NC Aquarium, the number of visitors is up from previous years, particularly 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic resulted in travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders that many feared could hamper visits. Despite the restrictions, some tourist destinations – especially those with outdoor attractions – have seen their attendance increase even during the height of the pandemic.
Cape Lookout Superintendent Jeff West said the national park has been “very busy so far this season.”
âIn May, we had around 158,000 visitors,â Mr. West said, âwhich is an increase from the 133,000 visitors in May 2020. In 2020, the park grew by about 7% in visits compared to 2019. In 2020, we registered 490,491 visitors, and in 2019, we registered 457,686 visitors.
Much of Cape Lookout’s features and attractions are outdoors, with less restricted access during the height of the pandemic than other sites. Mr. West said the cape had not closed, even though precautions were in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“At the start of last year, visits were down, but resumed throughout the summer as people tried to find some relief from the pressures of the pandemic,” West said. âCape Lookout was the perfect place to come where you could be safe with the people, while spending time on the shores with your family, in the open air with the wind in your hair.â
Until 2021, visits continue to increase for Cape Lookout. Mr West said he believes this is largely due to more people discovering the site.
“I think a lot of people discovered us last year,” he said, “and a lot of people rediscovered us.”
Right next to the park’s visitor center on Harkers Island is the Core Sound Museum and Heritage Center. Chief Executive Officer Karen Amspacher told the News-Times visits to the facility, which celebrates the history of Down East, increased by around 25% from 2020, “when we were open with no rentals, events or programs.”
“We were allowed to open (in 2020) at 50% of their capacity, even during COVID-19, as part of Cape Lookout National Seashore’s reopening of their visitor center and ferry operation there. low, âshe said.
The increase in visitors to the museum in 2021 shows a resumption of not only a pandemic-related collapse, but also damage from Hurricane Florence in September 2018. Ms Amspacher said the effects of the pandemic have been multiplied by the museum being closed 18 months before.
âThe museum was closed during the summer of 2019 due to the storm and reconstruction from Florence,â she noted. âWe maintained some programming and our store at 806 Arendell St. in Morehead City while we were closed for repairs, and now (we are maintaining) two locations.â
Ms Amspacher said the number of summer visits this year was not as high as that of summer 2018, last summer the museum was fully open. However, she said staff expect the number of visits to be around 30,000 customers by the end of the year.
“It would be very helpful, with the record volume of room taxes being collected, for the Carteret County Tourism Board to invest more in local attractions to help us rebuild the revenue lost over the past year,” Ms. Amspacher said.
According to the latest occupancy tax revenue reports, lodging tax brought in $ 1,129,887 in May, an increase of 112% from the $ 533,963 collected in May 2020. The county spends these revenues on beach food and tourism promotion. It was a record period for occupancy tax revenue along the Crystal Coast, with record collections in the past 12 months.
At Atlantic Beach, Fort Macon Superintendent Randy Newman said on Tuesday that visits to the park, located at the eastern end of Bogue Banks, were also up from 2020. Unlike the Core Sound Museum and Cape Town Lookout, Fort Macon was closed from March 27, 2020, until May 9, 2020, meaning there were no visitors for the entire month of April 2020.
âDuring COVID-19, when everything was closed, I think the public turned to the only option available to most people, which was to just get out of the house and go out,â Newman said.
Despite the loss of a month of visits last year, Fort Macon saw an overall increase in attendance, with 1,012,815 visitors in 2020, up from 943,755 in 2019.
Like Mr West at Cape Lookout, Mr Newman said the growing number of visitors appears to be the result of more people exiting.
âIt seems a lot of people have reconnected with the outdoors and are looking for places like Fort Macon State Park to sit along the beach, fish and hike,â he said. declared. âWe put a meter on the Elliott Couse trail in February to see how much use this trail was. This month alone we had 31,222 hikers.
Finally, at the NC Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores, manager Liz Baird said Wednesday’s visits to the aquarium were “astronomically different” from 2020, when the aquarium closed to the public.
âOur current numbers, compared to our last normal year (2019), are up about 9%,â Ms. Baird said. âIt’s amazing considering that we always limit attendance with the number of tickets we sell. “
In addition to general admission tickets, the aquarium also has special activities, but Ms Baird said they were able to bring several events back indoors.
âOur summer camp is back and our behind-the-scenes tours are still popular,â she said. âWe’re excited about a new program we’re developing on animal enrichment, so people can see how we’re keeping our animals’ brains active. “
Staff are also working on a new aquaculture exhibit and recently opened a new children’s exhibit, Imagination Bay.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email [email protected]; or follow Twitter at @mikesccnt.