Steady growth in park attendance, and a corresponding need for more appropriations to serve that growth, surfaced in the early 1960s and continues today. The 1963 State Natural Areas Act guaranteed that future generations will have pockets of unspoiled nature to enjoy. The 1965 Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund required the state to have a viable plan for park growth.
The General Assembly pumped new financial life into the state park system with major appropriations in the 1970s for parkland acquisition and operations. By the mid-1980s, visitation at state parks had risen to six million visitors per year. Facilities were taxed to the limit and a new era of parks expansion and improvements was beginning.
In the 1960s, the need to protect fragile natural resources was evident on several fronts. The Division of Geodetic Survey began in 1959; the Dam Safety Act was passed by the General Assembly in 1967; and North Carolina became the first state to gain federal approval of its Coastal Management Program with the 1974 passing of the Coastal Area Management Act. By the early 1970s, the state’s involvement in natural resource and community lifestyle protection bore little resemblance to the limited structure of state organizations of the late 1800s.
The Executive Organization Act of 1971 placed most of the environmental functions under the Department of Natural and Economic Resources. The act transferred 18 different agencies, boards and commissions to the department, including the functions of the old Department of Conservation and Development. As some of the titles changed and some of the duties of the earlier agencies were combined or shifted, the stage was set for the 1977 Executive Order that created the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development. That brought together not only the growing community development programs, but pulled the always popular North Carolina Zoological Park (created in 1969 and expanded continuously since) and the Wildlife Resources Commission under the Natural Resources and Community Development umbrella.
Secretaries of Environment and Natural Resources1