W.Va. State Parks — Welcome to the future

Last week Governor Jim Justice and state Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby were at Audra State Park in Barbour County to announce you can finally make camping reservations on line. It didn’t take long for the camping world to respond. The announcement came on Friday and by Monday the Memorial Day holiday was nearly booked solid and there was a record number of reservations in the first 24 hours.

It begs the question, why did they wait so long to take the step? The answer is fairly simple, but one we don’t often consider in our wired world. The reason it took parks so long to come into the 21st Century is they are so far removed from the 21st Century. Ruby tells me only a handful of state parks for a long time had the Internet capacity to be added to the on-line reservation system just a few years ago.

“I can’t add a park onto the system if they don’t have the broadband to get on the system,” she said.

Ironically, the isolation which caused it to take so long for the parks to gain adequate Internet is exactly why we love them so much.

That problem has apparently been addressed and there is adequate Internet access now at the parks to allow for the advancement to on-line reservations.

It’s a welcome change to many who used to consider camping in the Mountain State a crap shoot. There is nothing more disappointing that hooking up the camper, loading up all of the gear, driving two hours and finding all campsites are full. Reservations at most parks had to be made by the U.S. Mail well in advance. Thankfully all of that headache can now be avoided with a newly designed website and online reservation portal. Those who have already made reservations via U.S. Mail this summer WILL still be honored, but those will go away next year.

The improvements don’t stop with the reservation system though. The state also announced $3.2 Million in upgrades to the campground infrastructure at 16 West Virginia State Parks. The upgrades include things like remodeled bathhouses, improved water and electrical service to the campsites, and other such amenities. There is also wireless Internet within the park camping areas. I guess we want to get away from it all…but not too far away. It’s all part of a multi-year effort and a $60 Million dollar bond to perform deferred maintenance and upgrades to West Virginia State Parks which have been languishing for years.

I love our West Virginia State Parks. They are special places and are a treasure to the state. However, they’ve fallen on hard times in recent years for a number of reasons. They are expensive to run, funding has been slow, and there has been a reluctance to use them to generate self-sustaining revenue. I would also argue there are probably too many of them. Over the last 50 to 75 years putting a State Park in some lawmaker’s district was a great way to win votes and the affirmation of constituents. The problem was the legislature would create the parks–but let others worry about how to pay for them. We now have more parks that we can afford, and its causing all of them to suffer.

Still, we love the parks and we use them often. It’s good to see them finally turning in a positive direction.