I am a big fan of State Parks, and West Virginia has a pretty extensive network of State Parks to choose from. I spent a lot of time in West Virginia State Parks and was generally really impressed by how they were run and what they had to offer. While they weren’t perfect, I think a lot of thought is put into West Virginia State Parks, and a lot of what they are doing could be a model for other states which are looking to build their state park systems.
The first thing I would applaud West Virginia State Parks for is, unfortunately, already outdated by the time you will read this. I loved that West Virginia State Parks were free to enter when I was there. That meant that they were there for everyone to enjoy, and I would often see a sign and just pull in to check it out. Starting this year, the state will charge a fee in its most visited parks. While I know this will be a nominal fee, I say leave them free. The parks generate a lot of revenue through lodging and camping fees, restaurants, gift shops, snack bars and vendors. But there are those, especially in a state like West Virginia, who truly can’t afford to pay, but still want to bring their kids to the lake or out hiking. I wish the state would reconsider this and leave them as they are, open and free to all. Everyone should have access to their state parks and I’m afraid once fees are implemented it can be a slippery slope.
I stayed overnight in several of the State Parks I visited and was really happy I did. Since I was there in winter and most State Park campgrounds were understandably closed, I took advantage of their cabin and lodge accommodation. I stayed in a wonderful old Civilian Conservation Corps cabin in Holly River State Park and at the lodges in North Bend, Tygart Lake and Cacapon Resort State parks. All were immaculately clean and well appointed. I loved that the coffee and toiletries came from West Virginia. I really loved that the water bottles in my room were water from Berkeley Springs State Park. Having local products in the room was a really nice touch.
The restaurants I ate at in the parks were also really nice. The food was very reasonably priced and a good value for money. Because it was winter and there wasn’t much going on, the wait staff often went back and cooked the food too. Not ideal, but they managed to make it happen. One thing that I would change that kind of surprised me was the lack of West Virginia products in the restaurants. In a state that makes amazing jams and jellies, it was a little disappointing to find Smucker’s on the table. At Cacapon they didn’t have a single West Virginia beer on the menu. With the attention to this particular detail I found in the rooms, I was surprised it didn’t carry over into the restaurants.
The West Virginia State Park website is informative and easy to navigate. The reservation process is pretty straightforward and they seem to offer a lot of good deals throughout the year (check them out HERE). One of my favorite things they do is that if you must cancel your reservation after the refund window has closed, your deposit will remain in your account as a credit towards a future stay. This is a great policy as it acknowledges that while this is a business and they must have deadlines, they understand that things do happen sometimes and you will not lose your money altogether.
I loved hitting the trails in the parks, and every one I visited had a pretty decent trail map with trail descriptions and distances clearly marked. The trails themselves were blazed and easy to follow. Most of the time, because it was the off-season, I was the only person on the trails. That didn’t mean I was alone though, as white-tailed deer were always darting off ahead of me, while hawks sailed overhead and I even spotted a turtle hiding in the leaves, wishing very hard that I wouldn’t bother it. Many trails led to beautiful viewpoints, but some were just pleasant walks through the woods. It was nice to be able to pull into a park and do a quick hour-long hike to get some exercise and fresh air, or spend the whole afternoon on a longer trail. There were plenty of options, which I’m glad I could take advantage of before it got too cold.
West Virginia State Parks currently receive over 7 million visitors a year. In 2016, these visitors spent about $227 million throughout the state with just under half coming from out-of-state visitors. According to West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), for every taxpayer dollar that went into the State Parks, $13.15 was generated in revenue – that is a good return by any standard. WVDNR found that State Parks generated approximately $175 million in revenue for the state. The parks also provide much-needed jobs employing about 3200 people. As you can see even without charging entrance fees, State Parks are good business. Tourism is going to have to be one of West Virginia’s main revenue sources going forward. Unfortunately, West Virginia hasn’t added a new State Park in almost 30 years. Perhaps it’s time to start.
I had a great time visiting West Virginia State Parks. My night in a cozy old cabin with a big roaring fire in Holly River State Park was one of the top highlights from my entire month in West Virginia. I loved the trails and many of the natural features I found in the parks, and since it was winter I enjoyed the quiet and seclusion as well. West Virginia’s State Park system is doing a lot of things right. My criticisms are few, but I would love to see some serious thought put towards expansion in the near future. In the meanwhile, pull out a map and find a State Park near you and go for a visit. Let me know how it is in the comments below so I can check it out when I am in your neck of the woods. Happy Hiking!