Chaney brings national park experience to Cacapon

by Kate Evans

New Cacapon State Park activities coordinator Valerie Chaney has spent most of her career with the National Park Service in some of the nation’s most spectacular national parks. She started her position as Cacapon State Park activities coordinator on March 3.

Chaney is excited to have the opportunity to interpret the history and culture of her home state with visitors. She said she’s looking forward to creating some new and fun recreational and nature programs.

Chaney originally hails from Fort Ashby in Mineral County and returned home to West Virginia after a 12-year National Park Service seasonal and permanent employee career working at entrance stations, campgrounds and visitor’s centers across the country.

Chaney worked at Harper’s Ferry Historical National Park; Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; Shenandoah National Park in Luray, Virginia; Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah and Sequoia National Park in Three Rivers, California.

Valerie Chaney, Cacapon State Park activities coordinator.

Chaney said she has enjoyed connecting people to the parks first hand in her work. Her responsibilities have included greeting and assisting visitors and campers, daily park operations and management, creating interpretive, nature, wildlife and historical programs and talks, assisting with special events and developing educational programs for youth and adults. Chaney worked in supervision the last four years.

Education, early career

Chaney went to Georgia Tech on a full academic/women’s basketball scholarship, then transferred to Shepherd University on a women’s basketball/volleyball scholarship. She graduated from Shepherd University with a bachelor’s of science degree in recreation and leisure studies and a minor in commercial recreation and tourism.

She began her career with a college internship with the Jefferson County Visitor Bureau and Convention Center. She also did an internship with the education department at Harper’s Ferry Historical National Park on k-12 student programs at her first national park. She said she worked at Harper’s Ferry Historical National Park for multiple seasons and Shenandoah National Park off and on for six years with other national parks in-between.

Phenomenal experience

Chaney said it’s been an incredible experience to travel all over the country through her National Park Service work.

“I had the pleasure of living inside some of these amazing parks, in park housing, which gives you such a personal connection, almost like becoming part of them,” Chaney said.

Her adventures have included kayaking the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon, seeing southwest desert sunsets, watching bighorn sheep, a moose family, black bear and cubs and bobcats, hiking and seeing a glacier lake and viewing Yosemite’s waterfalls.

She said that there’s nothing like experiencing the world’s tallest trees in Sequoia National Park in the High Sierra mountains after several snowstorms and six feet of snow.

Her all-time favorite hike is at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to Maryland Heights where one can see the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and the town of Harper’s Ferry.

Chaney said she feels blessed to have had a wonderful journey and rewarding career with the National Park Service, and is grateful to be starting another with the state park service back home.

Brainstorming programs

Chaney wants to share her passion for the parks and West Virginia and is brainstorming park programs for this summer.

She plans to create programs on Appalachian culture, music, history, nature and medicinal plants and also offer her black bears program at the park. She loves the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Appalachian culture.

Chaney said she has a lot of regional contacts through working at Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah National Parks and wants to bring in area experts and volunteers to do programs.

Chaney is excited that Cacapon State Park offers many diverse activities such as horseback riding, hiking, golf, picnicking and educational activities. Other  fun includes fishing, boating, swimming, special events, Nature Center activities, nature and bird walks, arts and crafts and wildlife programs.

Chaney also plays pick-up basketball and volleyball with other adults and hopes to offer basketball and volleyball programs at Cacapon State Park since they have the courts. Chaney just finished coaching seventh grade volleyball and basketball at Frankfort Middle School. She is a former Frankfort High School graduate.

Chaney loves the outdoors and is a river enthusiast. She said her family had a river cabin when she was a kid and also had a lot of land.

“It instilled a love of nature and learning about the natural world,” she said.

Chaney has a 30-acre small farm in Fort Ashby and also enjoys camping and traveling in her travel trailer.

Chaney said she’s so excited to be back home in her home state and is looking forward to meeting people from the community.

“Stop out and meet the new naturalist,” she said.

Cacapon Superintendent Scott Fortney said that he’s really happy to have Chaney on board. She’s doing a great job and hit the ground running. Chaney is continuing park traditions like nature programs and hikes and bringing in new ideas and plans like hay rides and hot dogs. She’s already done a special program on the Gold Rush and organized Earth Day activities.

“She’ll be a great addition,” Fortney said.