At Cape Lookout, Fort Macon strong summer visitation persists into autumn

Cape Lookout Lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper’s quarters are seen from across the water at Cape Lookout National Seashore in this undated photo. (Steve Maier photo)

CARTERET COUNTY — Visitation during the 2021 summer tourism season either increased or maintained course at two of Carteret County’s biggest attractions.

This year, in spite – or perhaps as a result – of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of sightseers have visited Cape Lookout National Seashore and Fort Macon State Park during the summer and early fall.

Down East on Harkers Island, National Park Service Cape Lookout Superintendent Jeff West said in an email Tuesday visitation “continues to be up” at the seashore.

“Through the end of September, the park had 454,010 visitors,” Mr. West said. “Last year at the same time, we were at 370,806; (this) puts us up about 23%.”

The trend doesn’t seem likely to slow anytime soon. Mr. West said visitation is continuing to run “ahead of last year into the fall.” These visitors not only include North Carolinians, but also residents from other eastern states.

“We believe the pandemic continues to bolster visitation numbers,” Mr. West continued. “I think (Cape Lookout) is one of the cornerstones of tourism in Carteret County. Economic studies indicate visitors to Cape Lookout bring about $20 million annually in the local economy.”

While the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is the namesake landmark for the national park, other features and events help draw in visitors. The Davis Island Fishing Foundation held its fall tournament there, receiving more than 230 participants.

Meanwhile, on the east end of Bogue Banks sits Fort Macon, one of North Carolina’s most popular state parks.

Superintendent Randy Newman told the News-Times that from June through August, the fort had 423,383 visitors, “almost identical visitation” to the 426,576 visitors who came during summer 2020.

“In 2019, Fort Macon State Park summer attendance was 355,674,” Mr. Newman said. “(There’s been a) definite spike the last two years during COVID-19…Park visitors were excited that we had our Concerts in the Park series (this year), and live cannon-firing programs.”

Visitation during the fall so far has seen only a slight dip compared to last year. The fort has had 194,124 visitors, compared to 210,606 in fall 2020. Mr. Newman said this drop off of 16,482 visitors is likely due to schools returning to in-person classes this year.

When it comes to visitor demographics, he said the latest study at Fort Macon, conducted by N.C. State University in 2004, showed 12% of the park’s visitors were locals, while 88% came from outside the county.

“It appears that there’s a trend of visitors to spend more time in the outdoors,” Mr. Newman said. “If this is a long-term trend, only time will tell.”


Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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