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State Parks continue to soar in visitor numbers

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia State Parks were bursting at the seams for the first official weekend of the summer season.

Officials expect no let up as the summer sets in. State Parks Chief Brad Reed said nearly all cabins and campgrounds in the state were booked solid for Memorial Day and the demand for space isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Brad Reed

“We had parks full to capacity at a level we had never seen before,” he said.

Reed said at Cabwaylingo State Forest every campsite, cabin, and even every picnic table was occupied for the Memorial Day weekend. It’s a trend which began two years ago with the Covid pandemic. While other industries were shutting down and trying to figure out how to survive, the state park system enjoyed an unexpected renaissance.

“Camping really exploded. It’s just shown no signs of slowing down since. People began to think about staying closer to home and enjoying the outdoors a lot more than pre-covid,” Reed explained.

He recommended if you want to enjoy at West Virginia State Park this summer to make reservations in advance. There are a few cabins and campsites still available in various parks on various weekdays or even during weekends. However, arriving without a reservation could be a disappointing affair and you’re likely to find everything filled to capacity.

“I’d definitely make a reservation,’ he said.

The park system is working through a bond initiative which has enabled the state parks to perform some long overdue maintenance. Given the resurgence in popularity, expansion of cabins and campgrounds are on the drawing board.

“We’re planning to build cabins at Cooper’s Rock State Forest, we’re planning to build additional cabins at Beech Fork State Park. We have campgrounds in the works for construction at Cass, Cooper’s Rock, and Lost River State Parks. Plus we’re expanding the campground at Canaan Valley,” he said.

Those projects are not expected to be ready for occupancy until next summer.

Reed said the Covid effect is only part of the story of the rebound of the West Virginia State Parks. The other part of the equation is an unprecedented  marketing effort of State Parks by the state Division of Tourism. Reed said the park system has received more money for its marketing budget in the past few years than in the entire history of the system.

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