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Enjoying West Virginia’s state parks

West Virginia officials appear to be taking seriously the phrase “you’ve got to spend money to make money,” at least when it comes to our state parks, forests and resorts. More than $100 million in infrastructure improvements to the facilities has been invested since Gov. Jim Justice took office and lawmakers approved another $42 million for expansion and renovation last month.

“Hopefully we get all these repairs done and will continue to have enough revenue to invest back into the system. Ultimately, we want the parks system to be self sufficient,” Steve McDaniel, director of the state Division of Natural Resources, told WV MetroNews.

One improvement that has made an enormous difference was the switch to an online reservation system that, according to McDaniel has given the DNR the opportunity to reach 10 million visitors. Spots are quickly getting booked. The DNR’s latest plans include 230 new campsites at three state parks and two state forests, 20 new cabins at Coopers Rock State Forest, 25 new tree house cabins at Beech Fork State Park, and new bathhouses at every park.

Taking a drive to North Bend State Park or Blackwater Falls State Park, however, might leave those guests who were counting on spending some time at the lodges disappointed as renovations are ongoing there, too.

I talked to a man recently who had traveled with his family to see the new gray wolf puppies at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. (They’re ridiculously adorable. Go see them.) French Creek had not been his original destination, but he said he’d gone to Blackwater Falls and encountered mounds of construction supplies. He was advised to try Canaan Valley State Park instead. After that, he just started exploring.

It is fortunate we have so many wonderful places to explore in this beautiful state, but the man’s experience should send a warning to those planning millions upon millions of dollars worth of work at our parks. Not everyone will good-naturedly leave one park under heavy renovation and seek out another to explore. Surely planners have already thought of this, but work will have to be staggered enough to ensure we aren’t turning away TOO many of those who are willing to pay to spend a little time in Almost Heaven.

It may be a tad optimistic to hope our parks will one day be self-sufficient, but they can come close, if we plan this renewal correctly, and do the right work to attract visitors. In the meantime, as I’ve said time and again, West Virginians can help, too, by remembering the treasures we ignore in our own backyards. Why spend the money on a trip somewhere else in the country, when you can pay for a tank or two of gas and get away to a mountain paradise that offers everything from adventure tourism and hardcore hikes to lounging in the comfort of a lodge room or cabin with the beauty of our wilderness right outside your window?

And by the way, it’s not just the parks, it’s the people. If you go to the Wildlife Center, for example, and a woman at the concession stand offers you homemade pepperoni rolls, buy them. They’re delicious. Make sure your out-of-state friends know about people like her, too.

Maybe you’ve already done your summer travel planning, but there is no place like West Virginia for a fall getaway as the leaves are changing. Don’t rely on travelers from out-of-state to do the heavy lifting as the DNR works toward its goal for a self-sufficient parks system. Do your part. You won’t regret it.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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