BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - This weekend kicked off National Park Week, where all of the 400 national parks in the country, including the Moores Creek National Battlefield in Pender County, will have special events.
According to state officials, of the 40 state parks in North Carolina, 19 of the facilities had more visitors in 2013 than in 2012, including Jones Lake State Park in Bladen County.
Once a year, the park holds Interpretation and Education Day, an event where all fifth graders in the Bladen County School System get a chance to see what lives and grows in the area and learn how many people believe Jones Lake, and other nearby Carolina Bay lakes, were created.
The annual event is one reason Jones Lake State Park saw an increase in its attendance last year to almost one 1,025 visitors.
The park offers visitors a chance to enjoy nature, through six miles of hiking trails, a designated swim area, and a twenty-site family campground.
Park Superintendent Shane Freeman says informing the visitors about the region's history is a big part of the park ranger's job.
"A big part of our educational program centers around Carolina Bays, because Jones Lake is a Carolina Bay," said Freeman. "We also try to focus on the unique environmental habitats we have here, and try to highlight the plants and animals that we have here in our area."
That wildlife includes raccoons, otters, bobcats, snakes and even bears.
The office and education area is housed in a building that was renovated nine years ago but now includes a display about the Native Americans who once lived in Bladen County.
"We have had possession of a old dug-out canoe, Native American canoe for about two years now," said Freeman. "The canoe has been carbon dated to approximately 2,000 years old."
The park is open seven days a week. Freeman says he and his staff welcome people to visit and to also learn about how turpentine played a major role in the formation of Bladen County.
With gas prices continuing to rise during the summer, state park officials think people will spend their vacations close to home, which should translate into even more people visiting the facilities that make up the North Carolina State Park system.
State officials expect 14 million visitors to the state parks this year, so they are seeking volunteers to assist the paid staff workers.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact a nearby park through the division's website www.ncparks.gov or contact the division's volunteer coordinator at 919-707-9346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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