The Transylvania Times -

By Kevin Fuller
Staff Writer 

DuPont Forest Sees More Than 500,000 Visitors - Brevard NC

 

DuPont Visitor Center

Officials at DuPont State Recreational Forest are reporting record numbers of visitors to the popular tourist destination this past summer.

According to Jason Guidry, forest supervisor, nearly 550,000 people visited the forest this year through September, which has already eclipsed last year's total of 450,000.

"We've just completed our busiest summer, by far," Guidry said.

The 10,400-acre forest, which is owned and operated by the state, has been growing in popularity over the past seven years, seeing visitor numbers climb nearly three times since 2008.

The numbers mean several things to forest officials but also represent an influx of people coming to Transylvania County.

"That's a lot of vehicles, a lot of people, a lot of things," said Guidry.

For the county, it means tax dollars from tourism. For park officials, it means spending more resources in the park, such as staff and facilities contracts.

The park is doing what it can to keep up with the increase in numbers.

Park officials have upgraded the High Falls access area with an expanded parking lot at the Aleen Steinberg Visitor Center.

They have increased contracts with portable bathroom vendors, bringing in more facilities and more maintenance of the facilities as well.

"We're not a quiet little forest anymore," Guidry said.

Guidry said the swarms of people don't just bring tax dollars.

"When you get that many more people, you have more issues," he said.

According to Guidry, more park rangers are needed on nights and weekends than ever before.

More people equates to more people getting lost and needing to be rescued. This is forcing park officials to get creative, with resources not necessarily keeping up with the spike in visitors. DuPont officials have been focusing on what Guidry called "local partnerships."

Park officials rely heavily on local responders in rescue situations such as the Cedar Mountain Fire and Rescue squad.

The numbers have also put park officials in a peculiar situation.

Park popularity is partly due to the filming of movies within the park. Several scenes from blockbuster hit "The Hunger Games" were filmed in the park in 2011. The North Carolina Division of Tourism has even created a four-day itinerary with a list of 12 places to experience the movie.

Leigh Trapp, CEO of Hunger Games™ Fan Tours, also a co-owner of The Transylvania Times, said her company employs 12 staff members to keep up with demand, which is due to the popularity of the movie and the amount of sightseers it draws to the area to get a glimpse of where the movie was filmed.

Trapp's company gives tours of several sites within the park where scenes from the movie were shot.

"Of the thousands of guests we've hosted in the past four years - I'd say 95 percent had never been to Transylvania County before," she said.

She added, those visitors are staying in hotels and spending money in the community.

However, park officials have been weary about large events, such as movie film crews, staging in the park.

"We just said, 'We don't even know if we can do this,'" Guidry said.

Guidry added that park officials have to weigh their option each time there's a request made, which could possibly mean turning down a request for another blockbuster to be filmed in the park.

"All of our forests become overpopulated in the busy seasons, but we need to work together to resolve these problemss," said Tammy Hopkins, executive director of the Transylvania Community Arts Council. "Pisgah National Forest used the Cradle of Forestry Interpretive Association to manage busy locations, collect fees and recruit volunteers. If rangers at DuPont will work with the community, the tourism office, the film office and the Friends of DuPont, we can all work together to come up with a solution so that everyone wins."

Hopkins said until six months ago, DuPont officials were happy to let all types of groups use the forest. Now they are calling the Chamber of Commerce and telling the chamber not to send people to DuPont. Hopkins said that movie location scouts are being turned away from the forest.

Last year, park officials also had to turn down a request for a Spartan Race, which is a large-scale obstacle race with hundreds of participants typically.

"That's a big undertaking," Guidry said.

It's to be decided how the reconsideration of larger events will impact numbers of visitors in the park.

However, some groups seem to think outdoor tourism will remain strong in Transylvania County.

The Tourism Development Authority told members of the Transylvania Natural Resources Council (TNRC) in April the number of people visiting the county due to outdoor recreational opportunities, including mountain Biking is climbing considerably. Members of the authority cited a report that said in 2013 tourism contributed $84 million to the local economy, provided 740 jobs and generated $14.8 million in local payroll.

Revenue generated through sales taxes from tourists' purchases were the equivalent of a $209 tax break for each household in the county, the same report stated. Guidry said that while numbers continue to climb, his team has been able to keep up with the task. However, he will be keeping his eyes on the issue.

"I wouldn't say we are struggling - but we are doing our best," he said.

 
 

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