KINGS MOUNTAIN, NC (FOX 46) - From Park Rangers to "Parking" Rangers, that's what the Crowders Mountain staff are calling themselves lately.
"Once things fill up, we are directing traffic. I've personally stood in one spot, on asphalt for up to 6 hours before, directing traffic," said North Carolina State Park Ranger Kelly Cooke said.
In the last few years visitation has grown due to Charlotte's growing population.
"There are other parks in the state within fairly driving distance but because we are the most visible and the closest to Charlotte, we tend to absorb most of that visitation," Ranger Cooke said.
In the late 90’s, the average visitation was around 120,000 to 150,000. This year alone, about 800,000 visitors have come to the park. That's six times as many people since the late 90's.
"We make sure that we get here at 7 a.m., no later than 7:30 a.m., so that we can get parking. By the time we get off the trail, 2-3 hours later, normally the parking lot is so congested that you see the Park Rangers redirecting traffic and cars," Debra Wilform said.
Park rangers are spending weekends helping people find parking but it’s eating time on their other ranger duties.
"We would schedule a program in the morning, and then parking would start and we wouldn't be able to do it. We would schedule a program in the afternoon and parking would go longer than we expected," Ranger Cooke said.
The park does plans on expanding parking in the near future.
"It would be possible to add enough parking space to not have to direct traffic, to not have people sitting in line for 30-40 minutes waiting on a parking space, but is that what people want?” Cooke questions.
"If they put in another 100 spots, I don't think it will take away from the environment here," Hiker T.J Raab said.
"I think it could work like the Whitewater Center. I don't think there is a need for this for this totally paved asphalt space but you could throw gravel into that field. That doesn't look like very pristine woods for me. Keep it permeable and just have an over flow place for people to go a little closer," Hiker Luke Rogers said.
The project is still in the early stages but If everything goes according to plan they will start the changes next summer