by Kate Shunney
West Virginia’s DNR chief is looking at Cacapon State Park as a source of future tourism growth in the West Virginia State Park system. In a meeting with statewide media earlier this month, Division of Natural Resources head Stephen McDaniel named Cacapon and Canaan Valley State Park as two parks poised to grow.
Cacapon’s lodge expansion project will add 78 rooms, a pool, spa and new dining options at the park. Corridor H will continue to open access to Canaan Valley, said McDaniel.
Right now, West Virginia’s most visited parks are Blackwater Falls, Chief Logan and Cooper’s Rock, he said. There are 7 million visitors to state parks, and 65% of them are from inside the state, according to McDaniel.
“We have these beautiful places. We’re just not doing a good job at telling our story,” he said.
Right now, the state is tackling $110 million worth of improvements to buildings, campgrounds, trails, roads and other facilities at 35 state parks, nine state forests and two state-owned rail-trails. McDaniel said it will take more than a year and a half to get those projects done.
Morgan County’s two state parks are in the midst of major improvement projects.
Berkeley Springs State Park’s Old Roman Bath building is being refurbished to upgrade the baths, install a new boiler system, new electrical services and HVAC system. Work was supposed to finish in June, but Park Superintendent Scott Fortney said that finish date is likely closer to Labor Day.
“We decided to take a lot longer to do work to ensure the building’s longevity in the future,” he said.
Some of that work includes waterproofing and stabilizing the building’s exterior walls.
Even with those baths closed, revenue from Berkeley Springs State Park is up by 50% percent, said McDaniel. Fortney said the increase in business is related to new services being offered in the park’s baths and spa area.
Out at Cacapon State Park, contractors are assembling the steel structure of the new northern wing of the lodge.
Drainage issues at the work site slowed down excavation earlier in the process, said McDaniel. A finish date of June 2020 is likely to be pushed back.
“We might be a month or two behind schedule,” McDaniel said.
Construction of a new front entrance to the lodge is ahead of schedule, said Superintendent Fortney.
In the new addition, steel will be set soon to connect the new structure to the existing lodge. Contractors will then pour concrete floors. Stairwells and elevator shafts are already in place.
Once floors are poured, contractors will start exterior work, aiming to “dry in” the structure ahead of winter, said Fortney.
He said engineering work is being bid out now for drainage construction at the golf course. The old drainage culverts, original to the course, are collapsing. New drainage will also be designed to handle stormwater from the new addition to the lodge.
“Runoff will double with the new addition,” said Fortney.
The lodge project, which will also include some upgrades to the existing lodge rooms, has a pricetag of $25 million.
Other park upgrades
At Cacapon, not all of the upgrades are happening at the lodge.
Park employees are in the second phase of renovating the park’s existing cabins. Cabins 8-12 are closed to get new appliances, furniture, counters and interior work. Cabins 1-7 and 24-29 have already been remodeled this year.
Fortney said the park has funds to buy new paddle and row boats and canoes for the lake.
The park will also put in an 18-hole Frisbee disc course in partnership with the Apple Valley Disc Golf Association.
McDaniel said he’s interested in seeing 25 RV camping sites added at Cacapon State Park near the Bathhouse, and further improvements to the Bathhouse building to make it more of an event venue.
“We’re working with the Superintendent for more recreational opportunities to keep visitors there,” he said. “They’ve got to have more things to do.”
McDaniel told state media that visitors to the state parks stay an average of 2.5 days. He’d like to boost that to four days by upgrading facilities and adding more activities at parks.
McDaniel acknowledged that adding more visitors to the parks adds pressure on the natural areas those parks are meant to protect. He said people bring litter, trash and even invasive species to state lands.
Park naturalists keep people out of sensitive areas and educate them about the importance of protecting West Virginia’s special areas, said McDaniel.
“Each individual park has their own plan to do that,” he said.