BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. – Cacapon Resort State Park, which got its name from a Native American term for “medicine waters,” would benefit from some tender loving care.
The park’s history dates back to a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s. The original cabin from that project is still on site and in use.
The current, 48-room lodge was dedicated in 1956. Natural beauty is in enormous supply but many of the amenities don’t match tourists’ modern desires. Guest rooms are on the tight side and although there’s a lake for swimming, there’s no pool.
Change could be on the way if state leaders continue recent momentum with funding for upgrades through a bond sale. The state Economic Development Authority has been moving forward with aspects of the bond, including agreeing to allow the state Division of Natural Resources to be reimbursed for some work that might be done before money from the bond sale comes through.
Officials with the Economic Development Authority have said they expect to have the bonds finalized within the next few months.
The bond sale would mean a $25 million investment including a 78-room lodge addition along with a spa, an indoor pool, upgrades at the lodge restaurant and improvements at the golf course.
It’s at the top of the list for Daryl Cowles, who is both a state delegate representing the area and director of the Morgan County Development Authority.
“It’s been long overdue, long in coming,” Cowles said this past week during an interview at his office in Berkeley Springs.
Five years ago, the Legislature passed a law that authorized the sale of bonds for improvements to Cacapon, plus Beech Fork State Park, which is in Wayne and Cabell counties.
Then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the bill but his administration decided not to actually move forward on issuing the bonds because of the state’s uneasy financial picture. Lottery revenues to pay back the bond debt were considered too soft at the time.
“We thought we were there, almost there, a few years ago back,” Cowles said. “We got so far as to put it out for bid and got the bids back in and passed a resolution through the state EDA to issue the bonds before we had to put the brakes on,” Cowles said.
“Governor Tomblin had to put the brakes on just because there was so much pressure on the lottery fund at the time.”
The issue came to a head – either humorously or horrifyingly – during the most recent legislative session when state Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, who lives in Morgan County, amended a bill to de-fund the entire state Tourism Department if progress weren’t made on the bond sale by this coming Jan. 1.
“People know how important the project at Cacapon State Park is,” Trump said at the time. “It’s probably one of the top economic projects in this whole state.”
Trump’s amendment passed in the Senate on the strength of supporters of both Cacapon and Beech Fork. But cooler heads amended the amendment back out once the bill reached the House of Delegates.
Nevertheless, Eastern Panhandle leaders believe it’s likely Gov. Jim Justice’s administration, with its emphasis on West Virginia’s tourism potential, may go ahead with the bond to pay for upgrades at Cacapon.
“From all indications it looks like Gov. Jim Justice is going to want to pursue those bonds again, and we’re excited about that. It looks like the project’s moving forward again and hopefully back out to bid soon,” Cowles said.
There’s plenty to build on at Cacapon, which stretches out across Morgan County from the Virginia line to within sight of the Potomac River.
The 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf course has unparalleled views of rolling foothills and is a primary draw. Reunions, families and travelers may hike along 20 miles of trails or lounge along a beach and lake.
Anglers may catch trout, catfish, bass or bluegill. Nature lovers may see deer or bear.
“Right now it’s a major attraction for tourism for the Eastern Panhandle,” Cowles said. “Probably more importantly it’s a major attraction for Morgan County and Berkeley Springs for accommodation space, for the resources they have out there, for the amenities. A lot of that brings visitors in from the Washington, Northern Virginia areas to come visit.
“The ability to have more accommodations during the peak season and more amenities during the off-season will pay off tremendously for us and the state of West Virginia without a doubt.”
An improved Cacapon is a way to highlight many of the other attributes of Morgan County, Cowles said.
“Cacapon State Park Resort fits nicely with what we do here in the Eastern Panhandle, particularly in Morgan County where tourism is a major component of economic development,” he said.