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Despite Weak Economy, Tourism Remains High In N.C.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Despite a weakening economy and worries about going to war, officials say North Carolina had one of its best years for tourism in 2002.

Officials say tourists generated $12 billion in revenue, of which $1 billion dollars was in the form of state and local taxes.

"We had 44.4, almost 45, million visit North Carolina and 84 percent of them drove," said Gov. Mike Easley.

Officials say more visitors drove to the state parks from Jockey's Ridge on the Outer Banks to the mountains in the west. Jordan Lake State Park saw a 25 percent increase in visits as Triangle residents chose sites closer to home.

"I think our rangers will kind of tell you from experience whenever economic times get a little shaky, more people look to the state parks as just part of being closer to home," said Charlie Peeks, of the state parks association.

Easley said he is watching the trends in 2003.

"I think you will see the same trend in 2003 -- less travel by flight, more by car. For that reason, it's important that we go ahead with our infrastructure projects we are doing now, which is modernizing our secondary roads," Easley said.

Easley is pushing a program to use $700 million in highway trust fund money to repair the state's roads.

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