N.C. state parks are still open, still free, despite budget cuts

North Carolina's state parks limp this week into a new budget year with a 25 percent cut from the legislature, growing hordes of visitors and a sense that things could be worse.

As states struggle with deficits, the nation's parks are under siege. California will close 70 of its 278 parks. Washington State withdrew all state support. Ohio plans to allow oil and gas drilling in its parks.

No N.C. parks are expected to close. But visitors will pay more to camp, swim or picnic, due to fee hikes last year. They'll find fewer rangers and more peeling paint.

The park system also will lose millions from the trust fund that has helped it grow by about 5,000 acres a year since 1996. The fund is still paying off two landmark additions, the Chimney Rock and Grandfather Mountain tourist attractions. Little will be left this year.

Legislators diverted $8.4 million from the trust, which gets income from real estate excise taxes, to help balance the state budget. They took an additional $6 million for park operations, effectively lowering the appropriations cut to 5.6 percent.

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