The traveling public from outside our state is finding out what those of us who live here already know—West Virginia’s state parks are great destinations.
The state Department of Tourism reports the parks are on track to reach 10 million visitors this year. For the past 20 years, visitation has never exceeded 7 million. Camping revenue is up 154 percent over the last four years.
More travelers are now looking for outdoor activities. That is right in West Virginia’s wheelhouse, with plenty of hiking and biking trails, whitewater rafting, ATV riding, aerial tours, skiing and sled runs, boating, camping, hunting and fishing… on and on.
The recent designation of the New River Gorge area as a National Park and Preserve is a huge boon. That elevates West Virginia to a national destination. The Park will draw an increasing number of visitors, and those tourists may find there are other places in West Virginia they would like to see.
Our park system must be ready for the surge in tourism and ensure that visitors’ expectations are met or exceeded. That means making needed improvements. Just last week, the Legislature approved Governor Justice’s proposal to spend $42 million in budget surplus funds on state park expansion and improvement.
The state will build 230 new campsites at three state parks and two state forests. Twenty new cabins are going in at Coopers Rock State Forest and 25 new treehouse cabins will be built at Beech Fork State Park.
New bathhouses are going in at every park. The trams at Hawks Nest and Pipestem State Parks are being replaced. Connector trails will link the Hatfield-McCoy Trails at Chief Logan and Twin Falls Resort State Parks with lodging.
These projects are in additional to other major improvements that have been made over the last several years, including a long overdue online reservation system, six lodge renovations and the remodeling of more than 350 cabins.
The pandemic put a serious dent in travel here, across the country and around the world. However, as the restrictions ease people are anxious to get back on the road. Outdoor writers are posting stories about how adventure vacations are the perfect post-pandemic get-away.
For years we have read the occasional story in travel publications about how West Virginia is a “hidden gem.” There was novelty to being hard to find on a map, but there is not much benefit to the state for being “undiscovered.”
The improvements of amenities at our state parks and forests, accompanied by private sector investments in travel and tourism, combined with our natural beauty, mean the number of people who are going to “discover” West Virginia will increase exponentially.