By Kirsten McDonald
Information and Education Supervisor,  DuPont State Recreational Forest

Many outdoor enthusiasts can tell you the differences between a toad and a frog or between a
turtle and tortoise; however, these same people might struggle to explain how a state park and a state forest differ. At the most basic and overly simplified level, the words “park” and “forest” offer clues in how to differentiate the two. “Park” contains the letter “p”, and parks are focused on people. “Forest” contains a “t”, and forests are focused on trees. But, this simple mnemonic device is, of course, a gross oversimplification.

In North Carolina (NC), state parks are governed by the NC Division of Parks and Recreation,
and state forests are governed by the NC Department of Agriculture. Both types of public lands are funded by state revenues and are concerned with protecting our natural resources, but their unique locations within the governmental structure reflects some of their differences. For instance, the NC State Park system’s mission is to “inspire all its citizens and visitors through conservation, recreation and education.” This mission differs from the NC Forest Service’s mission to “protect, manage and promote forest resources for the citizens of North Carolina.”

The following chart outlines some of the many ways that state parks and state forest are the
same and are different.

State parks and state forests have more in common than just hiking trails, fishing areas, natural beauty, and prescribed burns. Both types of public lands are set aside for the enjoyment by the citizens of and visitors to North Carolina. And, if we all work together to model and promote responsible visitation, we’ll be able to enjoy them for years to come.